If They Ask Where We've Gone
We are all afternoon man and woman of the wildernesses. We are spear-throwing, shelter- building survivalists. We are the off-casts, the non-remembered, the sometimes called. We are all of these things until Dad yells from the back porch to get our asses in the truck, we’re going to evening service.
            At evening service we are mostly saved. My sister Opal sits with her hands locked to the right of me, an exhaled prayer under her breath, blown through the between spaces of her fingers. To the left of me slouches Dad, left of him sits Mom, left of Mom stands a man suit-breasted gold tray in hand money-asking for a friend named God. Mom places in the gold tray her tip money from Theo’s, six ones and a crinkled five.
            We sing the “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” sing the “What Child is This.” The singing place between “When Peace, Like a River” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” is when Pastor Wes asks us to consider all things considered what we are, are we followers of God, or only fans of God? Are we true believers or only half believers? And after I consider all things considered I exhale like Opal under my breath, I am man of the wildernesses.
            I myself, I too pray for safety from what hides in the woods behind our house.
            By the time we make it home from church it’s too dark for outside. Opal says it’s beyond dangerous to go out at night, what with what’s out there hiding behind trees and beneath leaves and under the earth. Side by side we brush our teeth over the bathroom sink, then left she goes into her bedroom and right I go into mine, under the covers scared of whatever might bust into my room from the window, the door, the dark under the bed. There’s an afraid place in me, one that starts in my arms and leaks out the tips of my fingers, goes out like that but stays inside. Not five minutes alone and I am sneaking into Opal’s room with my bedroll that I roll out, and not ten minutes together I’m near asleep next to Opal’s bed, her hand stretched down to me by her side, holding the tips of my fingers to plug the leaks of the afraid place inside me.

In the morning we are back to the wildernesses. Opal helps me into boots and double-knots the strings tight, does the same to hers. Opal’s got the knife, Swiss Army. Scissors to screwdriver to toothpick for our teeth, it's all there. We crunch through the woods where we sort through branches and find the straight sticks that Opal whittles the ends of, making spears to fend off what’s hidden in our woods. 
            Woods go on for millions of acres but Opal knows the way. I hop-step my boots into her mud prints, her prints the same size as mine. We take a break on the way to the fort to check the raccoon trap Dad gave us for Christmas. Nine times out of ten we catch our neighbor’s cat but this day is that one time out of ten.
            Empty, Opal says. 
            On the way to the fort we pass the trees we climb and the trees we can’t, pass the rock-circled fire pit we’ve never started a fire in but always try to start a fire in. We pass the crick, the holes we’ve dug, pass the dirt hills piled high from the holes we’ve dug. All the way to the fort we pass what we know to pass.
            No wind blows through the trees. No singing birds sing their songs to us.
            The fort looks the same as we left it, sticks and branches leaning against the biggest tree in our woods, the tree that fits under the category of trees we cannot climb, all adding into one lean-to half-teepee fort. Opal dips inside and I hop-step in line with her, the two of us fitting snug-tight safe inside this lean-to half-teepee we call ours.
            We peek out one head each, check for what hides. What’s hiding, they don’t come out during sun time, most times. Most mornings we stay still, the afraid place inside me leaking out of my fingers even with Opal’s hand over mine, leaking through the cracks of her knuckles. 
            Before long, I say, I’m hungry. We should head back.
            Shush, hear that? Opal says. She sticks out her spear-sharpened stick and stabs air.
            That? That’s my stomach growling and such.
            Opal turns her head left, right. I got this feeling, she says.   
            An hour more and we’re headed back. We pass what we know to pass but only half as much when there’s the sound of a rustle through the trees. We stop where we stand, and Opal ducks down and I do the same, Opal’s finger hush against her lips.
            Opal points one way, then points the other. We’ll meet back at the house, she whispers.
I start off in the other direction, start sneaking that way. Opal starts off sneaking like me but then sprints off her way, woman of the wildernesses yelling with her spear spearing the air, and I make like her, heading the other way, the sound of me screaming through the trees. All the rustle-swishes follow Opal, leaving me a safe path home.
            When I make it back to the house Dad slides open the back screen door and yells over my yelling to stop yelling, says, And where in all hell is your sister?
            I point at the woods, all crybaby-like. 
            Well, he says. Go get her.
            I shake my head, No.
            Goddammit. Come on then.
            Dad is the shield of me as I step behind his steps, the afraid place in me growing wide. Under his breath Dad exhales words off limits to me and Opal, the F- and B- and D-words, him walking all lightning-speed crunch through the woods, passing what we pass on the way to the fort. Not a single rustle-swish to be heard. 
            Opal is not at the fort.
            Opal! Dad calls out. Opal!
            We search the woods. I take Dad to the place where I last saw Opal and we find her prints but it’s hard to tell if the prints are mine or hers. We follow them until they disappear, all clear but then quick like that they’re gone, like she got pulled into the earth or eagle-swooped from the sky. After following the dead-end footsteps, Dad takes us to places in the wildernesses Opal and I have never been, places we would never think to go. Hours spent searching until the sun falls into the trees. Dad’s shoulders sag, fall low as sun. Then I see it, a touch of red through the trees. Only a sliver of it, a slice, right there.
            Right there, I say. I point at the right-there red and run to it. Dad trails behind me, his footsteps hop-stepping into mine. I bend over and pick up the touch of red. Opal’s Swiss Army knife. I tuck it into my pocket.
            She’s gotta be around here somewhere, Dad says.
            But in the next few minutes it gets too dark for outside, the rustle-swishes stirring all rustle-swish in the night. I walk back to the house, following the mud prints we’ve made. Dad doesn’t understand, doesn’t know what hides out here. He is not by himself in not understanding, myself not understanding why what’s hiding came during sun time. Dad stays out after dark, looking for his, our Opal. I worry he’ll get snatched by the rustle-swishes like Opal did. I stay up, perched on the back of the living room couch, watching the black outside, waiting for Dad to come back from it, waiting for Opal to do the same. Past midnight he steps into the living room, a shake in his head.
            No Opal.

What’s hiding is not hiding, is out during sun time again. Next morning, the police show up flashing lights to our house after Opal doesn’t come home with Dad, and both police officers, the way they walk, into our living room, kitchen, dining room, Opal’s room, there is a rustle-swish in each of their steps. Their belts, their clothes, too. Rustle-swish.
            Don’t trust them.
            But Dad trusts them. He talks with the officers in the kitchen once they finish searching the house. Mom’s resting and I am not to bother her, Dad says. He offers some coffee to the officers and each of them shakes their head, No, thank you. Dad lets his coffee go cold.
            How quick can you get a search party together? Dad asks.
            First officer says, Well.
            Second officer says, We can’t do anything until seventy-two hours after the missing person in question is deemed missing, sir. Once the said seventy-two hours in question has passed only then can we send out the aforementioned search party, sir.
            First officer says, Standard procedure.  
            Dad, getting all Famous Actor, says, This is my daughter we’re talking about.
            First officer says, Sir.
            Second officer says, Sir, we must ask you to calm yourself. Sir, if you do not calm yourself we must forcibly take action. Are you calm? If you cannot calm yourself, sir, we must take action, and then we will have to take you down to the station. Remain calm. If you are not calm and we must take action then all will not be calm down at the station. Sir? Sir?
            Famous Actor Dad walks into the mudroom, puts on his boots, double-knots the strings tight, and walks out into the wildernesses. I am hop-step behind him, Dad the shield of me from the woods that go rustle-swish with the wind in the trees.

Three days and my sister Opal is famous. Front page of the morning newspaper, flyers with her face, same face that’s all blown up on the TV’s big-screen, my sister Opal, everywhere.
            Next evening service Pastor Wes asks us all in the pews to pray for the missing person in the pews, Opal. He asks for anyone willing to volunteer to volunteer and join the search. We sing the “Blessed Assurance,” sing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” Dad to the left of me, Mom not to the left of him. Dad doesn’t blame her for not attending, considering all things considered.
            In Pastor Wes’s closing he asks of us to speak with God. As those all around pray in the pews, Dad sits there slouched, a blank stare ahead. One by one the pew people stand and walk the aisle, walk to leave, and with me sitting in the aisle seat they each, the pew people, touch my head as they pass. A palm to the head, resting there for a second or two, then gone. I wonder if they know something I don’t, like if they’ve found a new afraid place inside me that I haven’t found yet, if maybe they’re trying to plug that place before it even gets known to me. Plug it like Opal used to. I take note to cover this place up as soon as Dad and I get home. 
            On the drive home, Dad turns on the radio and there she is, Opal all over. The radio says, We are interrupting this broadcast to report a missing child by the name of Opal Weathers. If you have any information regarding this disappearance––
            Dad turns off the radio and weeps into the wheel that steers the truck.
            Back home in the driveway, Dad looks out the window and says to me, Go on. I need a minute here. I’ll meet you inside.
            Inside the house Mom is still in the bedroom so I go to the room I call mine, put on an old baseball cap too-small for my head, covering up the maybe new afraid place inside me. I snag Opal’s Swiss Army knife from the safe-kept place in my dresser drawer. Can pull anything out of the Swiss Army. I pull out the knife portion part, go to the mudroom and double-knot my boots tight. All ready, I head into the wildernesses to look for Opal. Already it is getting too dark for outside.
            I head out all lonesome into the woods. As I pass what I know to pass, I check the raccoon trap and guess who? Neighbor’s cat. He goes all Meow as I go to let him go, and as I go to let him go, there it is, off to the left of me. The rustle-swish.
I run the way to the fort, Swiss Army swinging as I run. At the fort I dip inside and peek a head out, searching for a glimpse of what hides there. Nothing that can be seen but only heard. Inside my fingers, in my head, I have this feeling in me. And it is not the fear, not the afraid place inside me as it was before, the one that goes out but stays in, but a readiness to take on whatever took my big sister away, even if they take me as they did her.
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