Serial – Episode 4 of “20th”


Thanks to my lovely wife and the incomparable Mr. Grigsby for reminding me that people are actually reading this and maybe even liking it. I have reengaged the awesome.



Tim pulled the door open with his eyes closed. He knew it would be Lynn, his girlfriend almost against his will. He was glad that he had met Lynn last year on the 20th. It gave him an excuse to include her in his life. That was all that had happened to him last year, meeting her. He knew it must be important. It was a concept he fought for a long time, long enough that he nearly did end up driving her away.

In the back of his mind, though, he knew it was useless. He met her on the 20th. She was an event. No matter the end result, he knew that she would be a defining part of his life. So he decided that he would rather one day have her be the girl that he lost forever than the girl he let get away.

He opened his eyes after an unexpected moment of silence and was not greeted by Lynn. There was a feeling of vertigo that shot up through Tim’s midsection as if he were on a roller-coaster, g-forces pinning him to the floor.

“Brother.”

Her eyes were Janet’s eyes and not Janet’s eyes all at once. They were the color and hue that he remembered but they were different. They were not dead eyes. As his mind began to recover, he assumed that she must be a ghost. He stammered something that was trying to become a word, but couldn’t look away from her eyes. They were eyes that had lived too much. Eyes that wanted to forget. She looked through him.

She had grown, he realized. Twelve years old when she couldn’t be found, now twelve years gone. Was this what she would look like at 24? Tim didn’t think so, but it certainly wasn’t how she looked at 12. She appeared healthy. Her skin was pale but not without a certain pink hue to it. Her hair hung straight and brown as it always had. Just her eyes spoke of damage. They kept her from seeming whole.

“Brother.”

The repetition jarred him. He still hadn’t spoken. Wasn’t sure if he could speak. She continued to stand and stare, seeing him and not seeing him. Her lips parted again to speak and he found his words again. It was the obvious call and response from their childhood. They rarely referred to one another by name.

“Sister.”

“You look well.”

It couldn’t be anything but a dream, but Tim wasn’t going to try and fool himself. He didn’t lead the kind of life where he could tell himself that oddities were just the byproducts of fantasy and the subconscious. This was something real. Somewhere here was a truth.

“We tried to find you. We couldn’t. We couldn’t do it. Mom never gave up. She’s dead now.” Words started to pour from him, their dam now broken after more than a decade of a weighty conscience.

His parents were dead. He knew this. They had lived their lives, and were fortunate enough at least before his birth to live a life unaffected by whatever blessing or curse befell Tim. Janet did not have this luxury and he didn’t have the luxury of being assured her fate. Was she alive and suffering? Was she dead and unknown? Could Tim call it his fault? His mother spent nearly all her energies while she could still call upon them to impress upon Tim that it was not and that nothing ever would be. This had always seemed a bit too cavalier to Tim.

He kept his guilt like a precious thing. Polishing it and mulling over it during quiet times and tucking it away in a hidden place from others. After these many years, it was almost a thing of beauty. He now reached into those deep recesses to share it, just like an big brother flouting a prize to his little sister.

“We worked with the police. They brought the FBI. They were here for weeks. Mom cried all the time. I told her I didn’t cry, but I cried every day. I would sleep in your room sometimes. Mom came in once and saw me in the bed and thought it was you. I thought she’d never stop crying when she saw that it was me instead.”

Janet made no response. Not a blink. Tim covered up his guilt quickly, like a child with a toy who suspects that his audience is there to share rather than appreciate. This was for Janet. And he was suddenly unsure if this was really her.

When she spoke again, there was an echo to her voice.

“I’m not gone.”

He reached a hand forward to touch her. It was time to determine if she was some phantom to be dispelled. Before he reached her, she spoke again. He was unsure if she moved her lips.

“You could find me.”

The voice sounded as if it came from behind him and Tim whirled in confusion. He didn’t see a body behind him, but Janet’s face stared at him from every reflective surface in the room. She stared out from the television screen, from the mirror, from the window in his kitchen.

He turned to the doorway again and saw her fade at the edges, shimmering like a bubble. He could feel the tears welling in his eyes.

“You look well, brother.” And she smiled. It broke Tim at his core. A sob broke free deep within him and he cried out as he went to touch her hand. As he brushed against her, he had the distinct feeling of warm, living flesh and then she was gone, the contact of his hand being too much for whatever tenuous presence she had.

He found himself on his knees, wracked with sobs, hand on the doorknob instead of his lost sister’s wrist.

And the doorbell rang.

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