When I was nine I heard a voice. I lived alone. I never knew my father. As for my mother, one day I woke up and she was gone. The house was big and cold, even in the summer. There was darkness everywhere. The voice came from the basement, from the other side of a door I could never get to shut all the way.
I knew a boy who went missing. The police looked for days. One night the voice behind the door said go into the woods and that is what I did. There was an abandoned pump house at the edge of the reservoir. It had these rooms. They were half full of water. The missing boy was in one of the rooms, knee deep in water. I guess he must have been playing and fell in. That meant he’d been alone. Like me.
Do you know what I told him? Everyone had stopped looking for him because they didn't care anymore. At first they did, but after awhile they realized their lives weren't that different without him. They moved on. I was the only one who could help, so he better do what I said. After that I went home so he could think about it.
The voice told me I shouldn't have done that. I was a bad child. The door didn’t stay closed and so there was no way to shut the voice out. I told it I’d come down there if it kept that up. It said that if I did, it would go away forever. The voice knew I was afraid of being alone. It’s not like I was going to walk down into the darkness anyway.
A vase sat in the kitchen. It was full of sunflowers my mother had picked from the yard. They used to grow everywhere. The vase was made of blue glass and sat on a white cotton tablecloth that was sticky with peanut butter and jelly. Dead petals fell all over it. A leaky faucet had been dripping on the dirty dishes in the sink for days and now the water was overflowing and falling on the floor in a filthy trickle. The room was dark because it was overcast and all the lights in the house were out. It had rained off and on everyday since mom had disappeared.
Come back here, said the voice. Come back you terrible little thing. You ugly, disgusting piece of spit up food. You coward. If you have any brave bones in your body you’ll listen to me.
What could I do? I returned to the door at the head of the basement stairs. It said I should think about the missing boy alone in the pump house. Think about the rain washing in. Why did I think the voice had sent me? To redeem my own worthless existence. I knew what I’d said was a lie. Everyone was still looking for that kid. I was the one no one cared about. Had my mother gotten into an accident? Had she hit her head and forgotten about me? Or had she simply had enough and walked away? It didn’t matter because she was gone now and no one besides me had noticed.
I went out in the rain to find the boy. He was still there. He was pleading for help. I found some rusty chains and secured them on a railing. Then I threw the other end down. The boy climbed out. We left the pump house. He said he knew the way from there so I should go on. That was all. No thank you.
I began walking, but the boy ran up behind me. He hit me with a rock. It stunned me so badly I didn't know what to do. He hit me again and I fell. Now he was on top of me, striking me over and over with the sharp edge of the rock. I bled and I could taste the blood in my mouth.
That was for leaving me there, said the boy. He got up and left. I couldn’t move. It occured to me that I was going to die out here with nothing but the darkness and the woosh of the rain. In that moment I wanted nothing more than to be home again, to see the dry sticky sunflower petals or the dirty dishes or anything my mother had left behind. Even the voice, which she had probably also left to protect me, would do. Anything. But there was nothing. More importantly, there was no one.