Standing on wobbly legs in that parking lot, I slowly scanned the horizon. Black sky had surrendered to navy before arriving at a muted light blue. I could only manage short, shallow breaths, for fear of blunting the ability to hear the snap of a twig.
I sensed Alice’s arm next to mine as we faced the expansive field of mystery, though I was isolated in my own world. My thoughts raced as quickly as my heart, and yet I could not think. Cemented motionless in the moment, I waited, and I studied the tree-lined meadow again, wishing for the fog to disperse.
Tell yourself he’s fine. Tell yourself he may need extreme medical care.
Where are you, Aaron? I’m here now, I can help you.
Silent, unyielding suspense echoed in reply from the woods. What secrets did these hundred acres hold? How much longer was the wait?
He might be badly injured. There might be blood.
We are one, why can I not sense him? I have to know, we have to find him, this is too much for me to…
“I see something!” Tabitha’s voice floated from within the forest. She couldn’t be too far away from where we stood. She sees something, she must be getting closer to him. The first inkling of hope! Find your brother, Tabitha, hurry! She yelled, “I see his bag!” In my mind I propelled her forward, encouraging her to keep going. I envisioned her moving frantically through dense woods that would never allow a sprint.
Fiercely determined, she would not stop. I loved that about her.
I waited for her hunt to reveal another clue. Tell us something, anything.
And then it happened. A moment cemented in time that I will never forget. My mouth opened and I froze.
She screamed. A scream so piercing that everything stopped.
My sister-in-law screamed in the most indescribable way and it was the only sound to be heard for a million miles. As I heard this scream of horror, I had 18 thoughts at the same time: What?! What does she see? He’s okay, right? What does this mean? What has happened? Did he jump out and surprise her? Is his leg broken?
Surely he’s not….
As my thoughts whirled, I put my hands to my mouth. I suddenly saw people running. Without hesitation, friends darted from the parking lot to the woods, followed closely by the police offers. Tabitha’s scream could still be heard.
It’s going to be okay. Everything is fine. We’ll get him to the hospital.
As if blindfolded, I slowly walked the route so many had sprinted. I stepped cautiously, not even bending the grass beneath me. I made no sound, ready to hear anything from anyone. For the first time since arriving two hours ago, I crossed the confines of the parking lot in slow motion. How far would I go, how far should I go, how far could I go?
As I decided to just keep putting one foot in front of the other up the hill like everyone else, a police officer stopped me.
“Don’t,” he said. “Let me go find out what is happening and I’ll come back and tell you. I need you to stay right here and wait. I do not know anything, just wait and I’ll find out.” I did not challenge him, though just a few hours prior I would have. I pleaded to know what was happening in my whispered voice, staring the officer directly in the eyes, and instructed him to hurry because I would only wait so long.
Standing atop the small hill just beyond the parking lot, the sun revealed a path into woods. This was the gateway for Tabitha and the others.
I waited, listened, and prayed, instinctively knowing this moment would become a significant memory one day. God, let him be okay.
I changed my gaze to the parking lot, drawn to the face of a mother with a missing son. Alice was the kind of mom that squeezed her hugs tightly as she repeated “I love you,” to her one and only son. Every vacation’s end started her countdown to the next visit. She poured everything into family. In this, she was a statue, undoubtedly petitioning God for good news.
My eyes darted back toward the direction of Tabitha’s scream, the scenery unchanged.
I saw nothing, I heard nothing, I felt nothing.
What am I about to find out? What has happened? We are just a regular family. What is taking so long? How bad is it? I felt as if my toes were on the edge of a cliff.