This might have been a terrible idea.
Maybe I needed to wait for Yulia to show up. But she was late, and this thing…this need, was driving me forward.
At least it was the middle of winter, and I didn’t have to fight through quite the same level of underbrush.
Dad told me once that this path was clear and well used when he was a kid.
Of course, that was before.
Before he disappeared. And before she did too.
With the news, I would have thought that people would have already come out here. To do…whatever one did when they came to a place like this.
To do whatever I was doing here.
I climbed over the trunk of a recently fallen tree, having to sit on it to get over to the other side. At least the moisture from the bark was too icy to soak through my pants.
Yesterday, one of our winter storms raged through at the same time the news made the announcement. Maybe that storm knocked down the tree. If I was a storm, I would have. Just to remind everyone that what happened here was important.
The steel grey of the sky overhead peeked through the canopy above me. It gave me enough light not to trip and fall, but not enough to illuminate anything that marked the area for what it was.
Maybe there was nothing.
When something happened that forever changed a place in the mind and memory of an entire town, did it leave a mark?
I didn’t know. And I struggled to articulate, even to myself, why I thought that if I could find it, it would make a difference.
Finally, I got to the end of the short trail from the road.
The trees opened up revealing a meadow where long grass froze in bent over waves around an ice-covered pond.
The pond was small and irregularly shaped with thick ice across the top. The ice had a diamond sheen to it, taking every ray of light from the overcast sky and shining it back into the world.
“You do it for her,” I said, my voice as insubstantial as the mist that poured from my lips when my words hit the frigid air.
Walking out on a frozen pond in the middle of the woods with no one around was a terrible decision.
But even knowing that, I placed my first step onto the ice.
The thin and brittle edge of the sheet cracked and shattered under foot, but I took another, and another.
Once I was in the middle of the pond, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.
Long before I was born, a girl my age from this tiny town was murdered in this pond. She went to the same school I did.
My eyes were squeezed shut, but I saw the shadows of the dark clouds move through the sky, periodically blocking the sun’s meager light.
It felt like a code. Like the beginning of a conversation.
So I decided to start talking. Even if Yulia arrived while I spoke and thought I lost my grip, it was okay. Because I needed to answer.
“Molly,” I said, saying aloud the name of the dead girl I never met but heard about all my life, “I’m Andi. Just in case no one told you, and just in case you’re here—”
A shiver ran through me, but it wasn’t creepy. It felt like an acknowledgement.
“They caught him today, Molly. With DNA. They finally caught your killer.”
Off to one side, a sound floated through the air.
I opened my eyes and looked that direction, but there was nothing there except fog.
Wispy fog grew thinner as I watched.
“Before you go,” I said, a sharp pain shot through my chest that I would be so insensitive to hold her up for even a moment, but I had to ask. “If my father is dead somewhere out in these woods, can you pass along to someone on that side that I need to find his body?”
The last tendril of fog melted into the trees just as Yulia crashed through the path’s underbrush into the clearing.
Grasping my chest, the tightness and ache didn’t ease. Even though I came here, and even though I let her know, I wasn’t sure what she could do to help. I wasn’t even sure if my father was dead.
But it was worth taking the chance.
“Andi, what are we doing here? Your mom really just dropped you off…here?” Yulia asked, her brow furrowed and her eyes tight.
She didn’t understand, and I wasn’t sure if I could make her.
“I just needed to tell her.”
And I needed to remind myself that sometimes—even if it took twenty years—the biggest questions did get answered.
About the author
As a writer in the PNW I spend far too much time in the woods, but that inspiration and an unhealthy dose of insomnia has led me to be the author of multiple books and stories in a range of genres.