Come Find Me(4)

    But I looked it up after, which is how I stumbled onto all this stuff, but also how I stumbled onto the Quest for Proof: a group of people devoted to proving the existence of anything paranormal. Not just showing on some questionable video, or explaining with a persuasive paper, but proving.

I know there’s something here. There’s a reason for all the stories. There’s a reason for the ghost hunters.

My brother and his dog disappeared with no earthly explanation. And if I can prove it, I’ll have the backing of people who will admit, finally, Yes, this is what happened to your brother.

Because what the police kept stressing when Liam first disappeared was that the only way to find a missing person was to first understand what had happened to them.

So, step one.

I guess at the end, I do want the same thing as my parents: answers. A way to understand. It’s just that I’m pretty sure they’re looking in all the wrong places.

A dream. A premonition. An unexplained disappearance. A forest of ghost stories and legends, and my brother vanishing into thin air. There are things that have happened since that make it clear there is no rational explanation.

But I’m not here to chase ghosts. There are enough people who’ve taken that angle, coming up empty. I’ve got a different plan: drop a rock, and the same thing happens over and over again, predictable.

    But what if it doesn’t? What if there’s something unexpected, some failure to predict?

The unpredictable, the unexplained—that’s the proof. That’s my plan. I know I’ll find it here. I’m the one who felt it, after all.

* * *

What I don’t like to admit to myself too frequently is this, the second half of what the police were implying. Step two, if you will: if we understand how my brother disappeared, then it follows that maybe we can get him back.

* * *

I’m in the northwest corner of the park, a section I’ve never scanned before, when it’s finally time to call it quits.

I stop taking readings when the visitors begin arriving. Their cell phones might interfere. The walkie-talkies of the other rangers. I leave my own phone in the car, every time. I know I should really be doing this at night, when nobody’s around, when it’s just me and the stories, and the dark.

But then it’s just me and the stories, and the dark.

So, I’m a coward.

I pull out the map to mark off my progress, jot down the readings, before heading back for my car. The park spans three townships, a four-mile area, drawing the line between counties and school districts. Where I stand, the woods stop abruptly, giving way to open field, a split-rail fence, a barn. A house.

    The Jones House.

A shudder rolls through me. I know about the Jones House because everyone knows about the Jones House. Because Sutton went to school with the girl who survived it, because he made himself a part of the story, told pieces at a baseball clinic this winter to anyone who would listen. And because it was splashed across the headlines for weeks, just like Liam’s disappearance two years ago. It was the train wreck from which people could not look away.

And apparently, I’m no different.

There’s nothing paranormal about what happened in that house. But I remember what the psychic told my parents, about energies. I think about what could be left behind in a place like that. It could be useful for some sort of comparison or something. But mostly, I think—What can it hurt?

I’m across the field and over the fence before I can talk myself out of it. The house is abandoned, though there’s a FOR SALE sign in the front yard. I take out the EMF device when I’m far from the house, just for some baseline readings. Then I step closer, walk up onto the front porch, and press my forehead to the closest window, peering inside.

The curtains are pulled open, and I can see the outline of a couch, a lamp, pictures. But something registers as off in my mind, and I look again. The pictures hang crooked, and some have been knocked to the floor. The house is not right, and goose bumps rise on the back of my neck.

I steel my nerve and hold the device up against the stone-covered front wall, and then I hear it—

Footsteps. Lightning fast, but barely there.

My heart’s in my throat when a blur emerges from the side of the house, and it takes me a second to realize this is not a ghost but a girl. Long, pale legs and a dark tangle of hair and her back hunched over the handlebars of a bike.

    A girl, the articles said, Sutton said.

I watch her go. She doesn’t even notice me standing there.

* * *

The pizza delivery car is pulling out just as I’m pulling in, and suddenly I’m faced with a weekly dilemma: have pizza and get sucked into the world of missing children, or sneak up the back steps to the comfort of my room and let the hunger eat away at my stomach lining. I’d love option three: go to the drive-through. But I’ve spent most of my savings on this equipment, and my job is a figment of my parents’ imagination, after all.

As I walk to the house, I imagine I’m a gazelle in the savannah. The hunger wins out. The lion pounces.

“They let you out early?” my dad says as my hand reaches into the box of pizza.

“Uh-huh,” I lie. I said I was tutoring. I said it was a job at the library. I said I needed the money for college, since I knew my parents were running on fumes by now. They’d sunk so much into the search for Liam, and then into this foundation.

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