(Note: This is a series of short stories I’m uploading onto my site. You can find the other short stories on this page.)
Janie Young went missing on the seventh of November, under a waning moon.
In the first week, the news bulletins called it convenient. Gossip magazines ran columns that picked apart every detail of Janie Young’s life: from the thousand-dollar watches on her wrists to the failing grades marked in scarlet red on her school papers. Television personalities sniggered under studio lights about her social media pages; they rung up her parents, her cousins, her exes, undeterred when the line was slammed down with vehemence. Reporters flocked to her school in droves, filming the students as they streamed out from the auditorium in the very uniform Janie Young was last seen in. Interns hoping for the big scoop interviewed her closest friends, waving their microphones to ask questions they thought they already knew the answers to.
“Do you think it’s a coincidence that Janie Young isn’t here during final exams?”
“Sir, sir, tell us about Janie Young’s recreational drug use problem.”
“Is it true that Janie Young paid someone to do her assignments?”
“Ma’am, please tell us, did you ever witness one of Janie Young’s temper tantrums?”
But question after question after question, all they received in reply were dirty stares and broken cameras. Though they chased after the students who wore their ties askew and smelled of smoke, there were none who were willing to talk.
“We reach the month-long mark of Janie Young’s disappearance,” radio stations across the nation blared, in some form or another. “Search efforts have been de-prioritised as police consider the 17-year old student may have left the country.”
The summer holidays dragged by. The sun hung lower in the sky each day, beating down on Janie Young’s friends as they dug their fingers into warm sand and wondered if she had ever said anything about being unhappy in the days before she disappeared.
December rolled into January, and January spat out February, and the day that Janie Young’s high school went back into session, her name flourished again.
“DNA testing has uncovered that Janie was indeed kept in the trunk of an abandoned car under State Highway 1. There is no doubt now that this is a case of foul play.”
Momentarily, the whispers became louder in the hallways: a flourish of activity that rose uphill in its excitement, then quietly crashed down again when there were no new puzzle pieces. Her disappearance was an enigma that only lasted as long as her classmates allowed it to—a looming monster when they fed it and barely a silhouette when they let it starve.
Janie Young’s portrait stopped making its frequent appearances. Only late at night would her vibrant dark hair and smiling eyes grace the news, slotted between the paraplegic sport victories and obscure stock market updates. Patrons looked up between their drinks as the headline flashed across the muted TV above the bar. They signalled for another shot when they thought about the girl with dreams of changing the world.
Elderly patients in nursing homes clucked their tongues when she appeared on the screens in the lounge. They would tap their nurses’ hands for attention, and ask, “Poor, unfortunate thing, don’t you think?”
When the nurses only replied with an affirmative grunt, the elderly would shake their heads.
“That’s enough for tonight,” they would say, but they were wheeled away still seeing her face.
In homes across the country, Janie Young faded into commercial break.
The school went on break again. Janie Young became a small paragraph at the bottom of a newspaper that declared the investigation closed. Her locker was reassigned. Her parents shut down her social media sites, scrubbing feeds clean of well-intending messages that meant nothing. Both her bedrooms were torn apart and put together again to erase any trace that she had ever been there. Her posters mingled with the dinners her mother eventually dumped in the trash every night.
Janie Young had almost become a myth. She was talked about and forgotten, both existing and never real.
Then in late October, while families were stringing spider webs on their porches and the weary winter was defrosting, a lone tramper stumbled upon a piece of Janie Young at the base of a tree.
“There’s a ripped jacket with a heavy blood stain,” he told the emergency line operator. “I checked the pockets—only a tube of mascara and a sheet of study notes.”
So the police drove out to the site, sipping on sugarless coffee and shivering when their boots sunk deep into the mud. They surveyed the area, following the sound of lapping water farther into the woodlands. As branches that resembled bony fingers scratched at their necks and dewy leaves left tracks on their cheeks, they had collectively known what they were approaching.
Janie Young was found as still as glass, laying at the bottom of a lake. She hardly looked human over the thin film of moss that grew over the water’s surface, rendering her green and fuzzy. Forensics teams and their cameras snapped to capture one hand over her stomach and the other splayed to her side. She had skin like porcelain with the cracks to match.
The lab said she had only been in the water, unblinking, for a week or two.
But if you asked anyone, Janie Young had been dead for much longer than that.
© Chloe Gong