Release Blitz for My Sister is Missing by Carissa Ann Lynch
That old saying, you can never go home again, tickled the edges of my memory and floated on the back of my tongue as I accelerated through the Bare Border welcome sign in my rented Honda Civic. The car was supposed to be the ‘luxury option’. Stupid me – I’d actually expected something fancy, like a Rolls Royce. The Honda wasn’t bad looking, but as soon as it hit 45 mph, the doors had begun to rattle and shake, the wheels threatening to tumble loose, and the peppery must of cigarette smoke from the previous driver was making my temples ache. In truth, I longed for a cigarette myself, but the last time I’d smoked was, well … it was the last time I came back home.
Nine years ago, I’d come to Bare Border for my sister’s wedding, but even then, I’d only stayed for the ceremony and reception. I didn’t visit with family. I didn’t stay overnight. I’d shared the champagne toast, made a clumsy congratulations speech, then ducked out before the clock struck midnight, Cinderella-style.
I didn’t want to stay in Bare Border then, and I don’t want to be here now.
But Madeline had asked me to come; not just for a visit, but to ‘stay for a while’, however long ‘a while’ meant. She wanted to talk to me about something, but not over the phone. My big sister had never been the mysterious type; in fact, she was pretty terrible at keeping secrets, or at least the old version of her used to be, the one I remembered from my childhood.
What do I really know about her now, besides the fact that she’s a mother, and happily married?
I don’t know what I was expecting when I passed through the entrance to my hometown – storm clouds and thunder? An ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach? The theme song to Stranger Things prickling my subconscious? What I found instead was a scene from a movie script, but not the creepy, menacing variety. The afternoon sky was a silk-screen blue, the sidewalk teeming with children on bikes, and tiny mazes of houses puckered out between the only buildings in town— Maggie’s Mart, the elementary school, the library, the post office, and a couple of fast food joints. It looked downright charming and quaint.
As I passed through the town square, I spied the bingo hall that also functioned as a church, creeping up ahead on my left – where my sister was married. From this vantage point, everything about my hometown looked the same as it always had, how I remembered it…
Maybe you can go home again, an annoying voice tickled my ear.
I think the expression means that you can go home, but it will never be the home you remember. Nothing is static; everything looks different through a child’s eyes. But in my twenty-nine- year-old periphery—nothing about Bare Border had changed.
But, then again, this was as far as I’d been in just under a decade.
Rundown storefronts and residential houses faded away as I navigated up the steepest hill I’d ever climbed in my life. Even though it had been a long time, I knew I had to speed up, or else risk rolling backwards.
I punched the pedal to the floor, revving the engine up the twisty incline, instantly shifting around the once familiar curves from my past. The Honda rattled dangerously as I gripped the wheel with both hands.
It’s not until I reached the top of ‘Star Mountain’, as the locals called it, that I realized I’d been holding my breath. I hadn’t tackled this hill since I was twenty years old, and when you’re twenty, nothing seems scary. But now it wasn’t the climb itself that gave me a jolt, but the drop off on either side of it. There was nowhere to go but down, down, down if you fell … and what’s at the bottom? I wondered. I’d never really cared to ask when I was a teen.
Thankfully, the road flattened out again, and right away, I was back on autopilot, taking a right on Painter’s Creek Road and then a sharp left on Knobby Pine. There were no more children on bikes, the old farm roads abandoned. Population: nobody cares. There were just too few to count, although that number had probably grown since I’d last come back.
A thousand times I’d made these turns—making the drive back and forth from my first job at Maggie’s Mart, driving myself to junior prom after Paul Templeton had stood me up, and my first wreck, when I’d T-boned Mrs Roselle. For the record, the accident wasn’t my fault – that woman always ran the stop sign on Lowell’s Lane, which intersected with Painter’s Creek Road.
My sister’s house, and the place where I grew up, was right up ahead, exactly where I left it all those years ago…
The trees opened up and there it was: the crooked old sign for the ‘Bare Border Inn’. It whistled back and forth in the wind as I turned down my sister’s driveway. The ‘inn’ was nothing more than a two-story, eight-room house that my grandparents used to run as a bed and breakfast back in the Fifties. To me, it had always just been our house, but my mom and dad had never taken down the sign.
This place has character. History. You can’t get rid of that, my mother had told me.
The bubbly vibrations of gravel beneath my tires welcomed me home for the first time in years.
I’d ripped and roared through town, but now all I wanted to do was slow down. I wasn’t ready for this reunion – the one between my sister and I or the one with my own childhood. Going back was like returning to the scene of a crime when you were guilty: it wasn’t advisable.
But I’m not a criminal. I have nothing to run from, right?
The house itself loomed like a ghoulish shadow, a black silhouette against a backdrop of crisp summer sun. Only, the sun was fading now, a gloomy dull film settling over the rickety inn…
The driveway was longer than I remembered, and the further I got down it, the foggier the air around the Civic became.
The inn was set back from the road in a clearing, thick woods surrounding it on two sides. Almost like an appendage, like it was a part of the woods, not the other way around. I could sense movement beyond the trees … barefoot children scurrying through the branches, keeping beat with the sluggish pace of the rental car.
These were the children of summer. Bees zipping, bird wings flapping, the rolling water of the creek – all part of their never- ending summer soundtrack. In reality, there wasn’t anyone moving through the trees, only ghosts of the children my sister and I once were. The sticky taste of cherry Kool-Aid still clung to my upper lip, mixed with the sweat and dirt from running in that muggy, marshy forest…
There was a pang in my chest – the concept of family was something I hadn’t thought about in a long time.