Honorable Mention – Flash 405, August 2018: “Mystery”
She didn’t know that she was lost, she only thought that she was winning the game that she’d neglected to tell the rest of us that she was playing, and so we did as she wanted without even knowing it: we sought her—in the toy chest at the foot of her small bed, in the wicker clothes hamper in the upstairs hall, beneath the guest bed in the extra room. After exhausting the familiar places, panic drove us to the backyards of neighbors, to the alleyways bisecting the blocks around the house; to the backseats of parked cars and the berry-choked hedge of Pyracantha along the side of the Presbyterian church. We yelled ourselves hoarse, saying her name over and over again until it sounded nothing like a name, until our voices were night birds emerging from the high branches of the Norway Spruce. Not one of us thought to look in the crawlspace under the eaves, the place that always frightened her as if it were haunted, or inhabited by something more terrifying and famished than any monster in her frequent nightmares, but there she was – curled up with a picture book and a flashlight; a bottle of water and a sleeve of saltine crackers. She’d looked behind the low door in the baseboard and found it cozy—not the expected danger, just boxed coats and Christmas lights and the comforting smell of hot dust and trapped air. She’d shut the door behind her and waited to be found, our shouting voices scarcely audible through asphalt shingles and fiberglass insulation. For the first time since she could remember, she wasn’t afraid—not even a little.
Doug Van Gundy teaches in both the BA and MFA writing programs at West Virginia poems, essays and reviews have appeared in many journals, including The Oxford American, Ecotone, Appalachian Heritage, and Poetry Salzburg Review. His first collection of poems, A Life Above Water is published by Red Hen Press. He is co-editor of the anthology, “Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary Writing from West Virginia.”