“Please can we go?” whined Tessa as
she followed her mother through the living room and into the kitchen. “Please,” she said again, pushing her
blonde curls away from her eyes. “I really want to go to the swing by the
by yourself,” countered Mrs. Mayfield, ignoring her daughter’s angry stare.
“We’ve talked about this before.”
and you said I couldn’t go alone, and I’m not. Megan will be with me.” Tessa’s
older sister was barely a year older and her best friend. Her mother began
emptying the dishwasher, putting plates and glasses away in the cabinet. It was
unclear if she was thinking about what Tessa had said or not, so she tried
again. “I’m almost eleven and Megan
is almost twelve. We’re practically
teenagers,” she said. “Besides, Janey and her brother will probably be there.”
Mayfield laughed. “You know, you would be a good lawyer the way you make your
don’t want to be a lawyer. I’m going to be a vet,” Tessa said, grinning.
I know you are going to be whatever you want to be.” Mrs. Mayfield laughed to
herself as she slipped the last piece of silverware into the drawer and turned
to face her daughter. At the sound of her name, Megan had joined Tessa in the
doorway and they both stood quietly waiting for an answer. Glancing at the wall
clock with a sigh, she said, “You both have to be back by four thirty, not a second
you! Thank you!” Tessa said, grabbing her sister’s hand in glee. Both girls
were in denim shorts and pastel T-shirts with their favorite matching blue
home on time,” their mom called after them.
will,” chimed the girls.
Mayfield heard the front door shut, followed by the sound of running footsteps.
smiled and went back to her chores as the afternoon ticked by.
At 4:45 p.m.
Mrs. Mayfield was waiting impatiently to hear the girls enter the house with a
list of a dozen reasons why they were late—but the front door never opened. An
hour after that, unable to wait any longer, she looked outside, thinking that
the girls might be in the yard.
from a croquet set littered the lawn; the wooden mallets abandoned and colored
balls scattered as if the girls had been playing only moments ago. The
trampoline in the corner had one of the girls’ bright blue sweatshirts hanging
on the edge. It swayed slightly in the breeze.
was no sign of them.
ran through the house to the backyard, but it, too, was deserted. No whispers. No
giggles. No shrieks of laughter. The wind was picking up and whistling through
the branches and leaves of the surrounding trees—almost whispering a warning.
Mayfield pulled off her apron and reached for her coat, deciding to walk to the
creek and bring the girls back herself. At this point, she was more angry than
concerned, knowing how they could be forgetful when they were having fun, and
often lost track of time.
surely they would be on their way home by now? she thought to herself as
her pace quickened from a fast walk to a jog. Against her better judgment,
and knowing that she couldn’t shelter them forever, she had crumbled and let
them go down to the creek where one of the neighboring boys had constructed a
swing that they loved to play on.
now fear ripped through her body. “Tessa!” she yelled. “Megan!” Terrible
scenarios shuffled through her thoughts as she tried desperately to keep her
emotions on an even keel.
yelled their names over and over until her voice went hoarse. Her chest felt
strangely heavy and her vision blurred as she ran, but her strength and
mother’s instinct pushed her forward, down the trail leading to the creek. The
trail was well-worn by local kids looking for adventure and fun. Stumbling as
she ran, she frantically turned left and then right. There wasn’t a soul
around… She was alone. She kept moving.
up at the tall pine trees, everything spun in a dizzying blur of forest and
darkening sky. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and open again, then stopped
for a moment to listen.
swing was only visible at the bottom of the path just above the creek and she
could hear the water rushing below. Peering over the edge, there was no sign of
them—or anyone. She kept turning, expecting to see her girls everywhere she
looked. They weren’t there. All around her were discarded candy wrappers and
remnants of fast food containers. Proof that children played here often.
was no sound apart from the whisper of the trees. No children laughing nearby.
Tessa!” she yelled again, but there was only silence. She ran all the way up
the trail to the street, still calling their names in a full-blown panic.
Mayfield turned her attention up the road, her mother’s instinct in high gear.
Something blue lying beneath a bush caught her eye and she ran towards it.
leaned down and her hand trembled over the light blue canvas before she forced
herself to grab the abandoned blue sneaker.
she said, barely breathing.
on the side tread of the shoe with a thick black pen was one word: Tessa.