She had a new name. Hair bleached to white sand. An out-of-state address. A new boyfriend who suspected nothing. Yet every year when the Midwestern forsythia bloomed, Ella was back at the muddy Michigan campsite hearing the skritch of duct tape pulling off its spool, smelling the sweat and woodsmoke in her clothes, feeling the burn of rope around ankles. Although the desert out her door was bone-dry and the plant life cacti, an internal clock tracked the season a thousand miles away. She was doused with shame despite the new identity she had adopted like a costume for a play.
However, what remained secret for her own private retrieval was the thrilling remembrance that–for a handful of days–her brothers turned themselves inside-out to find her: Jonty’s voice cracking when interviewed on 91 point 7; Gregor saying she was all he could think about. Journalists, the Chief of Police, a Detective Schwab were obsessed with her last appearance at the college dorm, her prior conversations with classmates who became sappy and tearful, acting as if she had been their best chum.
Ella’s curls were glossy in the photo plastered to every TV screen on prime time statewide, the one she’d pinned prominently to her bulletin board, as news anchors spoke her name with relish and a tilt of urgency. Donning a baseball cap, baggy dress and tennies, Ella left her campsite each morning and took the #21 Fairchild bus to Whitford Street’s library branch to keep tabs on WJBK’s YouTube clips featuring the manhunt. She couldn’t wait to find out what latest twist and turn it had taken overnight; how many helicopters had been pressed into service, what her professors had to say.
Alas, the upshot was her family were no longer taking calls, even hanging up when they first heard her voice. The media abruptly pivoted in scorn. Domestic women’s shelters and rape crisis centers nationwide sent her scalding letters. That lasered froth of reverence bestowed on her because of a presumed dangerous disappearance had not replicated itself in any similar way since. She felt foolish as a slapstick clown, as relevant as roadkill repeatedly flattened. Other news stories–some that even inspired TV mini-series–cropped up immediately to replace hers.
Yet those five days that one sweet April–until the SWAT team fanned out to comb the urban woods and “rescue” her–shimmered, luminescent and golden in the rearview mirror.
Author of five collections of poetry, Shoshauna Shy’s flash fiction has recently appeared in the public arena courtesy of Friday Flash Fiction, Rathalla Review, Nixes Mate Review, Literally Stories, Sledgehammer, Haunted Waters Press, FlashGlass, Five on the Fifth, BigCityLit, Scribes *MICRO* Fiction, 50 Give or Take, Ariel Chart International Literary Journal, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Blink Ink, Every Day Fiction, Burnt Breakfast, 100-Word Stories, 101 Words, 50-Word Stories, Fiction Southeast, Sou’wester, New South Journal, Bending Genres, Literary Orphans, Microfiction Monday Magazine, Thrice Fiction, Crack the Spine, A Quiet Courage, Red Cedar, Every Writer, Flash Fiction Magazine, Prairie Wolf Press Review, and Silver Birch Press. One of her flash was included in Best Microfiction 2021. She was also one of the seven finalists for the 2021 Fish Flash Fiction Prize, and will be included in the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology in 2022.
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Photo – Shoshauna Shy
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