Old Things Die (But Not Us) -- Chapter eight: Polaroid

Fiction By Madalyn Clare // 3/28/2019

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A few days went by as the police began their search for Josh. Since no one had real leads, it was a grueling job between the station and hanging posters. Questions were asked around, whether people had seen a scrawny Asian teenager with a mop of hair appear anywhere; no one had leads. No one was familiar with the description.
No one knew Joshua Kang. No one recognized the face that blended into the crowd.
It may have worked well for him in school, but now, it was the weapon that attacked our chances of finding him.
It was four a.m. in January. What day, I can’t tell you. Days started melding together in my panic, my fear, the feelings of sickness that came and went for days. This morning, all that pulsed through my veins was desperate motivation. I was in the kitchen, eyes glued to the phone, as I ate an apple. I don’t remember how long I was up, but it had to be a while, because my coffee was cold as I sipped it bitterly.
No calls.
My dad kept saying it would be okay. Lissa kept saying it would be okay. Chastity said it was being taken care of as well as it could be.
Why did no one see it wasn’t okay? It clearly wasn’t okay that a sixteen year old was off by himself; he had no means, no connections, or anything. He was alone and I couldn’t help him. I couldn’t find him, tell him that I was there for him, to protect him. He was my mission; I had to keep him safe in this dangerous world.
I was so tired, maybe my mind wasn’t working well.
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. I didn’t see any notifications, so I decided to send one. I pulled up Devika’s contact.
I don’t think you’re awake. But I’m awake right now. There haven’t been any calls yet. How long should we wait in a case like this?
I was thinking about a longer text, but I decided against it and deleted the message. I placed my phone back on the table as I took another gulp of coffee.
My phone vibrated.
I snatched it back up. Devika texted me, but it was a really long message. I opened it, but it took me several moments to grasp.
I saw you typing.
Levi, you’re making me nervous. How long have you been up? Are you drinking coffee right now? Stop. You can’t find him on your own. You can’t find him when you aren’t sleeping. You just can’t do anymore than you’ve done, so stop. Go to sleep. When you wake up, come to school, learn, and pray, all right? Trust that everybody’s doing as good of a job that they can without any leads or anything. But right now, absolutely NOTHING is in your hands. You can’t control the situation, so stop thinking that you can.
I love you. Good night.

I didn’t read the last couple sentences before I threw my phone into the sofa in the living room.
She didn’t understand, did she? Devika, Dad, Lissa, everyone… they didn’t understand how crucial this was. What were they doing, justifying their miniscule efforts? Josh was missing and they acted like I was going crazy. I wouldn’t be surprised if they reacted the same way if they were in my shoes.
But they weren’t. They didn’t know. They would never know because all they could see was that I was turning into a maniac.
I brought my knees up to my chin as I made myself small in the diner bench in the kitchen. I remembered this being my thinking place when I was younger, where I would go to solve all my hard math problems or wonder why Josh had bruises on his arms. Anything I was stuck with was thought through on the bright red plastic cushion.
I tangled my fingers in my hair as I sat, quiet. I put out all the posters. I went down to the police department several times each week. They had a drawing of him and they were on patrol for him. His father had been interviewed, searched, everything. They said they’d keep an eye on him, but they hadn’t found anything suspicious on him yet. I yelled that they weren’t looking hard enough, that if they met Josh, they’d know it was abuse. They’d lock up Peter Kang in a heartbeat if they really knew Josh like I did. They asked me a few questions about his home life, but I couldn’t answer many. I never went to his house. He never really told me what exactly his dad did, and his excuses to everyone else were that his injuries came from accidents.
I couldn’t even punish Peter Kang. I never felt so helpless.
I couldn’t… I just couldn’t.
I was broken now. I couldn’t go on. I was reaching out but I couldn’t reach him anymore.
Could I have reached him? Did I just fail? Could I have done anything? I guess I’d never know if there was more I could do, I was just too weak to do it.
I sat in the silence, let the screaming in my head get louder. I didn’t know what I could do to get to sleep, so I stared at my mug of coffee for what felt like… I don’t know. I just knew that the sun started coming up.
After an eternity, I glanced outside. A soft pink enveloped the frozen world outside. Despite monsters and demons, I could find the sunrise pleasing. I took in a deep breath as I leaned my head against the window and watched the sun poke its head over the neighbor’s house. In the early morning silence, I heard the sea. I heard the gulls. I heard distant cars on their commute.
But these sounds just made me think of how Josh listened to them better than I did.
I was going crazy.
I gave up sitting. I had to do something again. I went to my room, threw on some warm clothes, and exited the house silently.
Despite the freezing cold, the ground wasn’t icy and there were few clouds in the sky. Everything was purple. Green shadows played across the whitewashed homes, as bare trees glistened with icicles and dew. The world was quiet, as it should be. I silently walked down our street and numbly began the journey I frequently made.

Bentley’s Cape welcomed me in with a tired wave of freezing wind. But even the sky seemed exhausted, as if it needed a rest from hiding Josh. I took a moment to take in the lighthouse, the rocks, the peaceful water crashing against the gravelly shore. The sound of all the pebbles being pulled back into the sea.
After a moment of meditating on the sight, and wondering if I was doing it right by Josh’s standards, I crunched through the gravel towards the lighthouse. I didn’t make great time; it seemed like the lighthouse was miles away. Finally I hiked up to our usual site by the woodshed and, sticking my hands in my pockets, I took in a deep breath of fresh air.
What would Josh do…
I listened. I was quiet and listened.
The gulls squawking. Sandpipers. Storm crows. Bicycle bells chiming. The sea. I heard my breath.
I heard life going on, I guess. I opened my eyes as I sat down on the rocks, allowing my heart to go on beating to what I heard outside, not what was in my head.
I guess that was where we were different. My head was loud and I just listened to it, but Josh was quiet all around and listened to everything.
The passed through and circled the lighthouse. I took in a breath of it and listened to it.
Something in the woodshed fell over. I snapped out of my trance and headed over to see what happened. I went to open the door when I saw a piece of yellowed paper.
Frowning, I gingerly pulled the paper out and inspected it.
A Polaroid. A very old Polaroid. It was fuzzy, and I couldn’t make out the whole thing, but I could see four people. Two women, two men. It was sunny where they were. All of them were wearing sunglasses.
They were smiling.
But as I looked closer, I believed less of what I saw. One couple, seeming very in love (the guy was hugging her around the waist as she leaned her head on his chest), showed themselves to be people I wouldn’t have guessed.
Josh’s parents. His mom, alive, and his dad, seeming sane.
I turned it over in surprise, only to find writing there. It was Josh’s hand.
I’m going to go find her. You’re not stopping me.
P.S. I’m still alive. Call off the cops.
Josh

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