I met Charlie in kindergarten. Right away, we became the best of girlfriends. Then one day in third grade, she disappeared. Everyone was sure she had been kidnapped. Every night I prayed she’d come home safe. But by the third week, I, along with most of the grownups who were searching for her, realized she was probably never coming home—at least not alive.
Every year since, whenever I see an empty swing, I feel the pain of her being gone. That’s because the last time we were together was in the park playing on the swings. And then she disappeared, and I was left to feel responsible; if only I had stayed with her a little longer, but my mother had called me on my cell to come home.
“Go ahead,” said Charlie. “I just want to swing for five more minutes.” It pains me something awful every time I think about those five minutes. But then I have to remind myself that if I had stayed, we both might have disappeared.
With a deep soul-squeezing sigh, I turn away from the local photographer’s black and white print of an empty swing that I’ve been staring at on the wall of the local museum for the past five minutes. Afterwards, leaving the museum, I head across the street to the Starbucks for a cup of coffee and something to nibble on.
Sitting there with my Latte and muffin in front of me, I can’t get the image of that empty swing out of my head. I feel as if it’s haunting me. So, after asking for a bag to go, I take my muffin and coffee, and head for my apartment, which is only a few blocks away.
After warming up both the muffin and the coffee in the microwave, I try once again to enjoy my snack; it doesn’t work. I can barely taste either. Finally, putting the muffin in the fridge, I take a couple of sips of my coffee then put it too in the fridge.
Then sitting down in front of my computer, I’m hoping that once again, I’ll be able to concentrate on the corporate logo I was commissioned to create. Ten minutes later, I’m still staring at the screen, having accomplished nothing at all. I think, maybe if I rest a while, I’ll be able to finish at least some of the logo. But that doesn’t work either.
The next time I open my eyes, it’s eight p.m. and hunger, like a kitten’s paw, is lightly swiping at my insides. So, heading for my kitchen, I heat up a bowl of mac & cheese then take my meal over to the computer. Sitting down again, I tap the space bar to bring it out of sleep mode— and literally jump out of my chair, knocking over the bowl of mac & cheese.
For a second, I glance at the gooey yellowish mess on the floor, then look up once more at my computer screen. Staring at me from the monitor is the hologram-like image of Charlie’s face, the way she looked twenty years ago, when she was seven years old, and before she was kidnapped.
Shaking my head vigorously back and forth, I blink several times, but the image of my dead friend hasn’t disappeared. This has got to be a dream, I tell myself, but when I reach down to touch the mess of mac & cheese on the floor, I find it’s still really hot from the microwave. This can’t be, I keep telling myself, but finally, my brain settles on the realization that it must be real.
“Charlie?” I ask, disbelief straining my voice to barely above a whisper. “Charlie, is that you?” The image on the screen nods. I blink some more. “But how?”
Instead of answering my question, I see Charlie’s lips move and I hear her words inside my head say, “Find me.”
Once again, I shake my head. “Find you, how?”
“Find me,” she repeats.
And that’s when it finally dawns on me to ask, “Who took you and where?”
“He was nice at first, but then . . .”
For a moment, she looks as if she’s going to cry, but then she replies with hot anger, “Mr. Weatherly!”
I freeze staring! I can’t believe what she just said! “Are you telling me that Mr. Weatherly, our school principal, was the one who kidnapped you?” She nods.
Feeling lightheaded, I continue to stare at the image on the screen. Finally, coming to my senses, I ask her, “How do I find you, and where?” But instead of answering me, her image begins to fade. Panic hits me, and I reach out. “Don’t go!” I call to her, but her face disappears, leaving me staring at the logo I had been working on earlier, which is still only partially finished.
The rest of the night and the next morning, I find myself walking around in a quandary. My dead childhood friend has asked me to find her remains! But how? I’m not a detective, or a psychic! And if I go to the police, will they even believe me?
After breakfast, I get in my car and start driving, with no destination in mind. Driving has always helped me figure things out, especially when it comes to graphic projects, but not today. Driving by old Mr. Weatherly’s house twice, I wonder each time if I could somehow get him to confess and tell me where he hid Charlie’s body, but both times, I chicken out. That's when I decide there’s probably only one person I could possibly talk to about this—my father.
A one-time cop, he had to retire early after he was wounded during a raid on a drug house. Now he teaches law at a small college in the next state.
Finally after several rings, my father answers the phone. Immediately I go into what happened to me. I have to give him credit; he doesn’t interrupt me, or say I must have been dreaming. Instead, he orders me not to do anything until he flies out.
“But why did this happen to me now?” I ask him.
I can sense he’s hesitating, but finally he says to me, “You must have inherited some of your mother’s psychic abilities.”
What? Psychic abilities? Is he crazy? I stare at the phone as if it’s some kind of alien artifact.
My dad goes on to explain. “Your mother had some psychic abilities. Not much, but enough to be able to help me once in a while with some of my cases.”
Recovering from my shock, I ask him, “Then why couldn’t she help find Charlie?”
“I said she had some ability; not a lot.” As if that explained it all.
“Then why do you think Charlie visited me now?”
“Aren’t we approaching the 20th anniversary of her disappearance?”
“Yeah . . . so?”
“In the world of the deceased, time isn’t the same as with the living. Your mother taught me that.” His statement had me suddenly thinking about my mother. Ten years ago, she died of cancer. To this day, I still miss her terribly.
“So what do we do now?” I ask him.
“Like I said, don’t do anything until I get there. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then he hangs up.
For a moment, I find myself continuing to stare at the phone while thinking about what he said. Could that really be true? Could my mother have had psychic abilities, and could I have somehow inherited them?
The next day, on the way home from the airport, I say to my father, “Okay, so tell me about this psychic ability stuff.”
“Like I said to you on the phone, she had some minor abilities, which was why she helped me sometimes.”
“And you think I got some of her . . . abilities?”
“Well, it’s the only reason I can think of why Charlie’s spirit would visit you and ask you to find her remains.”
The whole thing felt so out of this world weird, and yet, I did see and hear Charlie, so what he said must be true. But now, how are we supposed to get my old principal to tell us where he put her body? That’s what I asked my father.
“We approach him and tell him what we suspect.”
“But what if he goes crazy and attacks us, or bolts?”
“Then we ask the locals to put a bolo out on him.”
I nod thinking, I guess that’s one way to handle it. But, as we get closer to Weatherly’s house, I find myself getting madder and madder. By the time we stop, I’m practically in a homicidal rage . . . except that’s not like me. What the hell is going on?
I barely let the car stop before I’m out the door and running toward his house. Arriving at his front door, I begin pounding on it. “Charlie wait!” I hear my father call.
I take a moment to glance at him. Why is he calling me Charlie? My name is Alice!
But then turning back to the door, I pound on it once more. “Weatherly, open up you SOB!”
I’m almost surprised when it does open.
Weatherly is standing there wearing a white dress shirt and black pants. He looks like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. Staring at me as if I have a gun pointing at him, he asks, “Who are you and what do you want?”
“I want to know what you did with my body!” I snarl, grabbing the front of his shirt and pushing him back into his living room. If I wasn’t holding onto him, he probably would have fallen on his butt.
That’s when I feel my father’s hand cradle my arm and he says to me, “Charlie, let go. He’ll tell us.” Once again, I glance sideways at him. What’s with this Charlie thing?
Then turning back to Weatherly, I jerk him once more by his shirt and shout, “Tell me, you SOB, what did you do with my body!” This time, Weatherly is looking at me with terror in his eyes.
I hear my father beside me say to Weatherly, “It’s her spirit. She wants to know where we can find her remains.”
At this point, Weatherly’s façade shatters and he blubbers through tears, “I didn’t mean to hurt her; it was an accident!”
But that’s not good enough for me. “Where are my remains!” I scream at him so loud and close that my spit sprays his face.
“In the wall behind the furnace!” he cries, like someone who has been forced by a terrible beaten to give up information.
And that’s when I let go of him. Suddenly, all the rage I’ve been feeling drains out of me, and I’m standing there blinking as if I’m coming out of a trance. And in a way, I am.
It doesn’t take long for the police to get there after my father calls them. Within a half hour, they have the cinder block wall behind Weatherly’s furnace broken open, exposing the remains of my once childhood friend.
At his point, my father makes up some cock-and-bull story for the police about me having had a dream about the day Charlie disappeared. In my dream, I saw a car like Weatherly’s drive by the park several times. After telling my father about the dream, we confront Weatherly who confesses.
After being interviewed by the police and the local papers, my life goes more or less back to normal, except for one thing. After my father flies back home, I get another visit from Charlie. This time she’s smiling as she thanks me.
“You’re welcome,” I say. “But I wish I can see you more often.”
“Maybe you will,” she replies, then disappears, leaving me to wonder about this whole psychic abilities thing. If I can see and hear Charlie, could that mean I might also be able to talk to my mother? If so, that would be great!