This is my piece from the third challenge of NYC Midnight’s flash fiction competition. Prompt: mystery/bon fire/fake id.
Warning: this is a poor excuse for a mystery.
But it placed first.
Anyway: What really matters when someone goes missing?
Callie Bronswick went missing the night of graduation.
I guess it was kind of weird when Principal Noel called her name, and she didn’t ascend the stairs that would’ve liberated her from high school, but the two of us hadn’t spoken in a long time. She wasn’t part of the group I leapt into the car with, wasn’t one of the people whose laughter mingled with some nondescript pop song to form the soundtrack to which I yanked my clammy graduation gown over my head. The wind reached through the open window and whipped my hair stringy. I thought about leaning my head out the window, but then the driver jerked the car to a stop. We spilled out into the driveway.
My friends’ boyfriends slunk up and handed over clothes that had been left in their cars. Dresses were shucked off and tossed into backseats like deflated chrysalises. Their boyfriends’ eyes meandered over the flesh that glowed under the moon and seemed to capture the flames quivering a hundred or so yards away. It glimmered faintly beneath their opalescent skin.
I stood and shuffled my feet a good few times and looked for Terry while I tried not to rip off the itchy dress I’d borrowed from my older sister.
No one said, “Where’s Callie?” or at least not at first, and even when the phrase actually spurred an initial discussion, the people she was supposed to ride with were the places it originated. The real conversation didn’t start until three cars with red and blue lights gyrating squealed into the drive. There were hisses of “shit” and “fuck,” “hide the weed!” and “dump it!”—just hidden by the pop of cinders and boots on gravel.
A flashlight bobbed, stopping at the edge of the grass. “Brooke McGavin?”
My friends’ shoulders tensed. They started to look at me, feeling guilty by association. I could see their hands slithering toward their wallets, ready to grab the ids that we all bought so we could get wasted on our senior trip. “Twenty-one,” their fingers twitched. They tried to hold their red plastic cups as inconspicuously as possible.
My hands had nowhere to go. Terry had my clothes and my wallet.
“Brooke McGavin,” the voice behind the flashlight said again. The beam flickered over the frozen forms that lined the fire.
All of my peers’ eyes were spotlights on me. If I didn’t step forward, their glow would out me regardless.
“Here,” I choked.
The beam went to my face then flitted to the side. “Where’s Callie?”
“Callie Bronswick,” the voice fumed.
“I don’t know. She wasn’t at graduation.” My brain felt like it was running on dial-up.
“I know that. Her parents haven’t seen her since last night.”
“Okay? Why do they think that I’ve seen her?”
“You’re dating Terry Brock, right?”
“It would be natural then, wouldn’t you think, for us to ask you, right? Girls tend to despise the girls their boyfriends cheat with, right?”
No one said anything. The trees let the silence settle about their shoulders. Even the kids who skipped graduation to get high were quiet.
The officer cleared his throat. “Right?”
“What…what do you mean by ‘cheat’?”
The flashlight roved across the crowd. “Do any of you know where Callie Bronswick is?”
The fire crackled, “Small town, small town.”
“We have more important things to do than to deal with teenage pettiness. You’re in the real world now, kids.”
The flashlight clicked off. He became corporeal and stalked back to his car. The lights were still flashing from the roof of the car, but they pulled out of the driveway without a sound.
My friends’ hands relaxed away from their wallets. Their eyes stayed away from me.
It would be a couple days before they found Callie. She threw up on a cop’s shoes instead of telling him what had happened to her. Later, she would throw on an easy smile and try to say that she just felt like starting summer early, but there was a bruise at the crest of her cheekbone, and her face was haggard. Her parents shut up the house soon after she returned, but a few months later, a stocker found her sobbing behind a display at a grocery store. Our graduating class started laughing at her behind their hands. I’d see her sometimes. I wanted to tell her not to worry about them—they’d be distracted by packing for college for soon anyway—but I didn’t.
She made me more self-conscious about my own bruises.
When Terry arrived at the party, he was already drunk. He leaned his lips against my ear, trapping my hair against it and making my whole body itch, and said, “Hey, baby. I can show you a real good trip,” like he was just trying to hook up with me and not my actual boyfriend.
He reeked of weed and floral body spray and belched beer fumes when he kissed me.
“Terry,” a shadow from the other side of the fire called. “What’s up, man? Didn’t see you at graduation.”
Terry meandered over to the picnic table and picked up a few cans and shook them. They rang hollowly when he sat them down again.
“Did you get my beer, man?”
“Yeah,” the host giggled, “but someone drank them all.”
In a few seconds, he would whirl around and scream, “Fuck!” He would stand there and glower at each of us, threatening to withhold the acid he’d brought by request until the host dug out a bottle of Fireball and handed it over awkwardly. In an hour, Terry would stalk to his car, grabbing my hand on his way. He’d only let go after he pushed me into the passenger’s seat. My fingers would cry out at the sudden surge of blood returning to them.
But before all that, I stared at his back like it was a foreign thing and felt it on my tongue:
What happened to Callie Bronswick?