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glenn84
December 30th, 2013, 07:00 PM
This story is based on real life events. Something I had to go through at a young age. For obvious reasons I've gone ahead and changed the character's names and some of the details. But the story is true through and through.


Michelle was in the kitchen making breakfast when the call came in. The kids were getting settled into their seats at the table. The voice on the other end of the phone sounded alien, the things it was saying about her brother couldn’t be true. Kaitlin, the youngest of the three, came up to Michelle and showed what she had made with her food, a happy face: bacon for lips, two pancakes for the eyes, and scrambled eggs for hair. Holding the receiver up to her ear all Michelle could manage was a smile of her own. Most days she would commend her little one on her artistic ability, but today wasn’t most days.

The voice went on, Michelle had to turn her back to her kids so they wouldn’t see the worry on her face. It told her that her youngest brother had gone missing, nobody knew where he was, no letter, no phone call, no nothing, just gone, like a leaf carried off by a cool autumn wind.

“Maybe he’s just taking some time away from everything,” she whispered to the phone. “You know these last couple of weeks have been pretty hard on him, what with the divorce and all.” She was trying to reassure herself, but was failing, horribly. Her brother had never pulled something like this before. He had a mother that worried too much about her kids as it was, he’d never make her suffer like this on purpose. He would always put others before himself. Michelle made sure to tell the voice exactly that.

“You’ll see, he’ll turn up soon.”

Her hand trembled as she hung up the phone.

After the kids had left to school she began doing some work around the house, help keep her mind off things.

Basket in hand, she went into each of her kids’ rooms to pick up the dirty laundry. Kaitlin’s clothes were where they were supposed to be, her room nice and neat, just like Michelle's used to be when she was a kid.

The boys’ room was another story altogether. Clothes were scattered all over, Lego pieces everywhere, bed sheets on the floor, pillows under the beds. It reminded her of her brother’s room when they were growing up. The mess he would make when playing Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians. Somehow she always ended up being the damsel in distress in each one of his make believe games. He was the hero, strapped with his pair of Colt 45s on each hip, and her other siblings would be the bad guys. Each time he saved her from some devious plan, he would say, “Don’t worry Michelle, I’m here now.” And like any good older sister, she’d reply, “My hero!” It never got old. No matter how many times he strapped on that plastic belt, and pulled out those plastic guns, it was always fun.

A tear came rolling down her cheek. She took a finger and wiped it away. “Why am I crying?” she said aloud. She wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt and quickly began picking up the clothes from off the floor.

***

In the afternoon she sat out on the porch and ate her sandwich. It was her favorite, but it didn’t taste quite right today, like the roast beef had a bit more blood than usual, and the bread wasn’t as fresh as she remembered it. She took a few bites and put it back down on the plate. A few minutes later a couple of birds landed in the bird bath on her lawn; two mockingbirds from the looks of it. They started singing a lovely tune as they splashed and played in the little pond.

Michelle smiled. Her brother loved birds. He learned how to whistle just by listening to the birds singing when he was a small boy. She made him teach her once he got really good at it. He loved them so much that, for his tenth birthday, thanks to Michelle’s recommendation of course, her mother had bought him a bird book. When other kids his age were playing with G.I. Joes and Star Trek toys, he was bird watching. He’d go out to the woods just behind their little one story home and check off the birds he’d seen. Time seemed like such a small thing when he was out there, chasing each bird from tree branch to tree branch. Her parents practically had to drag him back to the house every night. When everyone was asleep, he would come into her room and wake her with a few shoves. Then, whispering, he’d read the descriptions of each bird he saw with a flashlight. She still remembered a few of them: Northern Mockingbird, of the Mimidae family. Best known for its mimicking abilities, as reflected by the meaning of its scientific name, “many-tongued mimic.”

She pursed her lips, like her brother showed her so many years ago, and let out a few whistles, laughing while she did it. The birds’ heads jerked up and followed the sound of her whistles. After a minute, they began mimicking her. When they were gone she got up and opened the patio door to the house.

Once inside, she could no longer hear the rumble sound of the washing machine. So she walked over to the laundry room and moved all the wet clothes into the dryer. Once the hatch was closed, she turned the knob so it pointed to Very Dry, then pushed down so hard her hand throbbed. She placed both hands on the machine and leaned over as it tossed the clothes side to side. The intense heat it generated made her heart race.

Or…was it something else?

Hurrying into the kitchen, she grabbed the cordless from the charge station and dialed her brother’s cell.

A few rings later his voice came up; she yelled into the mouthpiece, excited, only to realize she was speaking to a machine recording. “Hi. I’m not here to pick up the phone right now. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

“Hey bro. Call me.”

She hung up the phone and looked at it for a moment.

The phone rang.

She grabbed at it like a cowboy drawing for a showdown, like a frog snatching a fly mid hop. “Hello, Hello,” she said, anxiously. But it wasn’t her brother on the other end. It was her mother, and she sounded worried. She asked Michelle if she’d heard from her brother. She lied of course. Nothing would be gained by getting her all worked up at this point. “Yeah, he’s just taking some time to himself. God knows he needs it. Yes, yes, mother, I’ll make sure to tell him to call you when I speak to him again. Ok, bye bye now. Love you too.”

She hung up the phone and stood there for a long while, running her fingers through her long brown hair. Then she went into her phone book and dialed the number for the zoo. A man picked up. She asked him if her brother had showed up for work this morning. The man put the phone down and went to check. He came back after a few minutes and told her no, nobody had seen him all day. She thanked him and hung up the phone, then got into her car and drove to his apartment.

Pulling into his brother’s apartment complex, Michelle caught a glimpse of his black Nissan. She parked the car in the space next to it and looked at it for a minute. Then she opened the door and went up three flights of stairs to his apartment.

She knocked on his door.

Nothing.

She knocked once more, louder this time.

Nothing again.

Cupping both hands on the window, she tried peeking inside, but it was no use, the blinds were drawn closed. She took out her cell from her purse and dialed his number. She placed her ear on the glass. The only sound she could hear was the cawing of his macaw, nothing to indicate he was home. But why is his car parked outside? she wondered.

The machine recording came on. “Hi. I’m not here to pick up the phone right now. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll get back to you—“

Angry, she quickly hung up the phone before he could finish.

Back inside the car she reached over to the passenger seat and opened the glove box. She took out the number for the police and dialed it into her cell.

“Hello. I’d like to report a missing person.”

***

That night she lay awake in bed watching the moonlight sift patterns on the ceiling. An owl had perched itself on the tree outside her window and was hooting like crazy. She slid off the bed and looked out the window, a tree branch rustled, the hooting stopped. A shiver ran up her spine as she saw the majestic bird take flight into the clear night sky.

She put on her robe and went over to her husband’s night table, opened the drawer, slowly, so as not to wake him, and grabbed the pack of cigarettes and lighter. Tiptoeing, she checked up on her kids, grabbed the cordless from the kitchen, and went out to the porch.

She sparked up a cigarette; took a long pull and exhaled. Gazing up at the sky she sat down and dialed her brother’s cell. This time there was no ringing.

“Hi. I’m not here to pick up the phone right now. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

The sound of the porch door dragging on the tile floor made her jump. Michelle looked up to find her husband standing there. He grabbed a cigarette and sat next to her; she gave him the lighter. “Thought you quit these,” he said, lighting the cigarette and taking a pull.

I did, she wanted to say, with my brother’s help. But thanks to him I’m at it again. But she didn’t say that. Instead she shrugged and said, “Just one. To calm my nerves.”

He looked at her and nodded, exhaling the smoke for a gentle breeze to catch it. He took the lit end of the cigarette and pointed at the phone. “Any luck?”

She shook her head. “Went straight to voicemail this time. What does that mean?”

He tilted his head toward the stars; moonlight gleamed off his eyes. “Could mean anything. Battery might’ve died. Could have shut it off. Anything.”

They sat there in silence for a moment.

He took a couple more drags from his cigarette and put it out on the ashtray. Then he got up and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t go to sleep too late, babe.”

When he was gone, she dialed her brother’s cell again and again and again. Each time she heard her brother’s calm voice say, “Hi. I’m not here to pick up the phone right now. Leave a message at the beep and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

***

The next morning it took all of her strength just to get out of bed and get dressed. She spent most of the day doing chores around the house while the kids played in the backyard.

At noon she sat down on the sofa and flipped through the family album, a cup of tea in her hand. She made sure to stop on each photo that her brother was in. There was the one with him and the kids, playing with the macaw. The one from his wedding day. And the time they all took that trip to Costa Rica. He had a big smile in every single one, like a kid in a candy store.

A rapping sound brought her attention to the front door. She slid the album from atop her lap and placed it on the coffee table, along with the cup of tea. She went over to the door and peeked out the window. A man and a woman stood there, heads hung low, wearing matching suits.

She quickly opened the door.

The man looked up at her as if being interrupted from a silent prayer. Slowly, he reached into his jacket and flashed a detective’s badge.

She didn’t wait for him to announce his name. “It’s about my brother, isn’t it? You’ve found him? Where is he? Where is he?”

Her sudden urgency took the man by surprise. He just shook his head. The woman shifted her body, as if preparing for a blow. He pulled something else out from his pocket; held it out in front of him. “We found this in the hotel room. I’m so sorry.”

She took the small book in shaking hands. It was the bird book she picked out at the bookstore for his birthday present. She opened it, there, on the inside cover, in his handwriting, were the words: For my big sister, my hero.

A tug at her shirt drew her attention away from the book. Curious eyes peered at her from below. “Mommy, what’s wrong?”

“Oh honey!”

Crying, Michelle knelt down and held her daughter tight; her brother’s image in her head. He had a big smile on his face as he twirled his guns with tiny fingers…twirling and twirling and twirling.

Abita
January 5th, 2014, 07:37 PM
Glenn, thanks for posting - this must've been tough for you considering it stems from personal experience. The story had good structure (clear beginning, middle and end), and I liked the last image of Michelle's brother twirling the guns, showing the reader what probably happened in that hotel room without coming right out and saying so. I thought the story could benefit from a little more show, less tell:

"It told her that her youngest brother had gone missing, nobody knew where he was, no letter, no phone call, no nothing, just gone, like a leaf carried off by a cool autumn wind."
The leaf image struck me as being sort of cliche, and not tied to anything else in the story. How else can you show us what Michelle was feeling? Did she instantly believe the voice on the phone, or did she have doubts? Did she think back to the last time she might have spoken to him? Maybe if you give the reader a glimpse into Michelle's reaction, we'll begin to identify with her more.


"The phone rang. She grabbed at it like a cowboy drawing for a showdown, like a frog snatching a fly mid hop."
Similar thoughts to my above comment. The frog image seems lighthearted and out of place. Rather than having the reader think about these other images in order to understand the intensity of the movement, try pulling us right into the scene with Michelle: "She felt the cool plastic earpiece on her cheek before she even realized she'd picked up the phone." Maybe something like that.

Hope this helps!

OliverGrey
January 7th, 2014, 12:14 AM
I really liked this. It was sad, but not in a soap opera over the top way. I was a little confused who Michelle was talking to on the phone. I understand someone called to inform her about her brother, but it wasn't his mom, work or the police. So who was it?

I also thought this part, "When other kids his age were playing with G.I. Joes and Star Trek toys, he was bird watching. He’d go out to the woods just behind their little one story home and check off the birds he’d seen. Time seemed like such a small thing when he was out there, chasing each bird from tree branch to tree branch. Her parents practically had to drag him back to the house every night. When everyone was asleep, he would come into her room and wake her with a few shoves. Then, whispering, he’d read the descriptions of each bird he saw with a flashlight. She still remembered a few of them: Northern Mockingbird, of the Mimidae family. Best known for its mimicking abilities, as reflected by the meaning of its scientific name, “many-tongued mimic.”" Seemed a little out of place. I think if there were a "she remembered" or something of the sort, it would fit the feel better. As it is it's the only part that isn't clearly about her. It's a strange short narrative shift.

I like the style and tone. Thank you for sharing.

glenn84
January 7th, 2014, 06:10 PM
Thanks for reading guys! I'll definitely take your feedback into consideration when I start the editing process. :joyous: