The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2020 Winners Anthology Fueled By Fire here.
“Disappearing Act” by Emily Krauss, Pleasant Hill Middle School
Second Place, Middle School Level, 2020
By Emily Krauss
Pleasant Hill Middle School
“I think I caught something.”
These were the famous last words of Josh Williams, a well-known fisherman who was running his live TV show off the coast of the Bahamas, when the cameras cut and he was never heard from again. His boat was found wrecked nearby and that was the end of it. Oh, and Josh Williams was my father.
That was fifteen years ago, and today whilst on vacation in the Bahamas, I see him. It’s from across the street though, and the streets are thick with tourists, so he is gone by the time I get there.
He’s changed a lot in the past fifteen years, but it was him. His hair has grown out of its cropped style and now reaches down to his shoulders in a shaggy style. His clean-shaven face now has a mussy beard on it. His right arm and left leg are decorated with webs of tattoos. His legs and arms are more muscular, and he has many scars covering his body. However, I would know this man anywhere. The man who raised me until I was twelve. The man I grew up respecting. The man who was my idol.
If he’s alive, then that raises a much more concerning realization. I don’t have a dead father. I have a father who didn’t care enough to stick around. A father who didn’t love me enough to be there for me. And that is a horrible thing to imagine.
It’s his fault. His fault I spent six years with my neglectful aunt after my mother died. I rub my chest as I feel all the pent up anger and angst start to writhe around in my heart. I take a deep breath and make a silent vow to myself to find him and make him pay for what he did to me.
I look out of my hotel window and stare into the dark city below. Somewhere out there, my father is sitting in his new house, probably eating dinner, maybe even with a new family. The thought . . . horrifying.
I hardly sleep, and in the morning I set out to put my plan into motion. I first draw up some plans, but they are all too time-consuming, so I grab my bag and head out into the city and wander around looking for him.
It’s a slow process because I have no idea where the heck he is. But, I know that he’s got to be somewhere. Hiding, like the coward that he is. I contemplate showing pictures of him to people, asking if they’ve seen him, then I realize that he looks a lot different . . . this might just be a wild goose chase after all.
Walking down the streets in Nassau, Bahamas is supposed to be a relaxing vacation away from reality; instead, it has opened up another whole door of stress and anxiety for me. So . . . fun vacation, am I right?
Anyway, I know that he’s out there just waiting for me to find him. The whole day goes by without me finding him. I come home at one o’clock in the morning tired and defeated. The only hope I have is that the next search will be more fruitful.
I wake up and take a nice relaxing hot shower. I put on jean shorts and a tank top and tennis shoes with thick soles before I head out to grab a quick bite to eat. The weather outside is hot and humid, and the streets are crowded with people. I look around, but it’s impossible to see anything through the thick smog of people.
I feel myself starting to freeze up and quickly duck into an alley where I can rest and catch my ragged quick breath. Just as I do, my phone starts ringing, I look and see it’s Jake. I’m just not in the mood, so I take a deep breath and put the phone back into my backpack. As I put my back against the wall and take a deep breath, thinking about how much my life has fallen apart in the past couple of days, a young woman comes bursting out of the crowd into the alley gasping and looking behind her. She doesn’t see me for a minute, and when she does, she yelps and jumps backward in surprise.
“Sorry,” she said in surprise. “I didn’t know that someone else was hiding from the crowd here.”
“It’s fine,” I say, moving forward to introduce myself. “My name is Zariah.”
“I’m Ivana,” she replies, taking a step back and putting her hands on her hips.
Ivana has a very tan complexion and is wearing running shorts with a loose-fitting tee shirt. She has very muscular arms and legs, and two blue studs in each ear with a gold locket hanging around her neck. Her dark chocolatey brown hair hangs down around her shoulders in perfect ringlets. Her eyes are a dark brown that seem to be studying me with such intensity that it is almost scary.
“What are you doing here?” she asks skeptically, as if she thinks I am some dangerous criminal.
“I’m on vacation.” I almost tell her about my dad, but then decide that I don’t know her well enough to tell her that.
“I live here,” she tells me almost haughtily.
I choose to ignore her and ask, “Do you ever get used to the crowds around here?”
She sighs and looks around. “I guess not. I’ve lived here my whole life, and I can barely stand to be around one of those crowds for more than ten minutes.”
I look around towards the back of the alley and see a way to a back street that seems semi-empty. I motion for her to go first, and then follow. As we’re walking, we pick up some small talk. I don’t know why we both don’t just keep our heads down and keep walking. But call it what you want, fate or destiny, we keep walking together and don’t stop talking . . . or walking. We just keep going. And we walk like that for the whole day. At the end of the day, she gives me her number and I get back to my hotel, trying to ignore the nagging feeling in the back of my head that tells me that I got nothing done today, except find another person who could walk out of my life.
I get up in the morning, feeling the heavy weight of disappointment settle on my back, hunching me over, weighing heavily on me. I walk over to the sink and look in the mirror, at my waist-length wavy brown hair. My bright blue eyes contrast heavily with my deep tan and dark hair. I have naturally long lashes that seem to frame my eyes perfectly. I don’t mean to brag, but by most people’s standards, I’m very pretty. I look in the mirror for one last second before throwing on a pink tank top and jean shorts. I look down at my phone and surprisingly see five missed calls. They’re all from Ivana. I look at my messages and see that she wants to meet me at a popular food place in town. I sigh and reply with a simple but nonchalant sure. I stuff my phone in my backpack, open the door of the hotel, and walk out in the streets taking a deep breath, inhaling the street food and the smell of the seawater off to my far right.
I step forward onto the street and immediately almost get hit by a bike that’s riding by. I jump back as the bike hurdles forward and take that as a bad omen for my day.
The cafe is not far away, so I decide to walk. I am definitely not chancing that snail-paced traffic. When I get to the cafe, it’s a small place. The front is a baby blue and pink with a nice sign, very cute and rustic. I open the door and a small bell rings. The lady from the counter looks up at me from her phone and gives me a phony smile. She looks right back down on her phone and continues scrolling on it. I sigh and take a seat and take out my own phone to see if Ivana texted me. She hasn’t. I scroll through Insta while I wait for her. This time is different though. This time, instead of checking out what my friends are doing, I scour through my dad’s old friends’ pages trying desperately to come up with anything. Nothing.
Pretty soon, Ivana comes in—out of breath, but cheerful. She smiles at me and then says, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be late, but my parents were really concerned about where we were going. Like I haven’t been to this coffee shop a million times, but whatever.”
I smile back and invite her to take a seat. “So,” I say, taking a deep breath, inhaling the sweet yet bitter smell of coffee as it wafts through the air. “What do you want to do today?”
“First I want to get a nice hot cappuccino, and then we can walk around the city for a little while see the sights,” she says getting up to go get coffee. “Do you want anything?”
“Sure, large house coffee black, no sugar or cream,” I tell her, looking back down at my phone out of habit.
She gets the coffee and then sits down and we talk for about an hour. We walk around, all whilst I’m looking for him. I don’t even know what to call him anymore. He doesn’t deserve “Dad” or any form of that. His name is probably not Josh anymore and “HEY YOU!” seems really weird. Well, I guess that we can cross that bridge when we get there.
We’re walking around when the mid-day heat really gets to me. It’s about 100 degrees outside and super humid. I stumble, and almost fall as I feel myself becoming increasingly faint. Ivana catches me on my way down and then the world seems to fade out slowly, like a bad black and white film.
I come to, and I’m inside some random building that has low ceilings with lights on the ceiling that seem almost blinding. I move in the chair and try to swallow, but feel the dryness in my mouth and I can’t swallow. My mouth is almost sticky and my limbs feel heavy. I move my head to the side. It’s a struggle, but I manage. I feel the movement of the cold compress on my forehead as I move my head. I see Ivana standing at the counter with a pretty woman who has light brown hair and a curvy figure.
They are standing next to each other talking in hushed tones. I open my mouth to speak and instead hear a sound not different from one a mouse makes. They both look over at me and then slowly walk over. I yawn and then ask in a hoarse whisper that is the only sound I can make, “What happened?”
The blond woman speaks up. “You had a minor heatstroke.”
I sit up and look around confused. “Why am I not at the hospital?”
Ivana looks up from the ground and says, “This is my mama. She is a doctor at the nearby hospital—”
“And I didn’t think that you needed to be admitted to the hospital,” the lady interrupts.
“Well, thanks for saving me,” I say, moving my leaden tongue around in my mouth.
“Yeah,” Ivana said, “And I’m so glad that you get to meet my family.”
“Yeah, me, too,” I tell her as her mother starts walking back to the kitchen.
“Want to stay and have dinner with us?” her mom asks whilst mixing something in a bowl. A smell of something good wafts over from the kitchen and makes my hunger pangs go crazy, like a pack of rabid dogs.
“Yes, please,” I say, licking my lips in anticipation.
Ivana hands me a glass of water, and I take a huge gulp, right as the door opens.
He walks in. Yes, my father walks in with a hippy gross man-purse slung over his shoulder. I then proceed to spit the water all over Ivana. When he sees me, he drops the phone he’s holding and his jaw hits the floor.
During this whole interaction, Ivana and her mom just stand there, clueless. “Zariah?” he asks as he steps forward in amazement.
“Yes?” I say taking a step away from him.
“What are you doing here?” he asks me in a quiet voice.
“No, the better question is what are YOU doing here?” I ask in a dangerous tone.
He looks at the ground and rubs his forehead. “I guess I owe you an explanation, don’t I,” he says softly.
“Owe her an explanation for what, Dad?” Ivana asked him urgently, and that one word blows me back a couple of steps. Dad. How is that fair that she got to grow up with a dad, one who was always there for her, while I had to be stuck by myself, bouncing from relative to relative, and then from foster home to foster home?
“She’s . . .” he says. “She’s my niece.”