“The Missing Girl” By Susan Price

Marja stood in the middle of the city square, a tiny speck amongst the hustle and bustle of the vast city. It was early winter, the Christmas season, and snow blanketed the ground up to her calves, but the bitter winds didn’t touch her. She looked around, frantically calling her daughter’s name.

“Ansa! Ansa!” she shouted above the din of holiday revelers. Ansa was nowhere in sight.

Trudging through the deep snow, Marja made her way toward the harbor, and the crowd parted for her almost without thinking. She broke through the throng of people and stood on the edge of the pier overlooking the frozen harbor below. The icebreaker ships had arrived. Ansa loved watching them each winter as they tore through the ice that had formed on the sea. Marja cursed loudly; she was hoping that her daughter might have been watching the ships make their circuit, but there was no sign of her along the pier.

The night was turning bitterly cold, and Marja began to panic. Where was Ansa? Overhead, the moon shone full and bright, illuminating the square, but there were simply too many people around. Reaching for a woman as she passed, Marja asked, “Have you seen a little girl? Five years old? She was wearing a red coat and hat.” The woman shrugged her hand off her arm and kept going without acknowledging her, and Marja swore at her as she passed.

Turning, she made her way through the masses back to the last place she had seen Ansa—the large, domed, and pillared Helsinki Cathedral. It was currently lit up in hot blue neon, gaudy against the black sky, like something on the Las Vegas strip. This was done for the tourists, no doubt, but it had always seemed so gauche to Marja. Electric Jesus, she thought bitterly. Ansa was still not there.

Marja approached a Japanese family snapping pictures with their small cameras in front of the Cathedral. Reaching out, she implored, “Please help me. I’ve lost my little girl. Her name is Ansa, and she is five years old. She is wearing a red coat and hat. Please, have you seen her?”

The woman, obviously the mother, glanced her way briefly, then huddled deeper into her coat. She turned to the man and whispered something in Japanese, and then they ushered their two children away.

“Wait!” Marja cried, but the family ignored her and hustled away.

“Dammit! Ansa!” Marja began screaming as she blundered through the snow. The Cathedral’s lights gave the snow a blue tint, which further disoriented her. Her breath caught in her throat and she began to sob.

“Why won’t anyone help me? Ansa!”

Marja began to sob, broken sounds escaping her clogged throat. Ansa was just a little girl, lost amongst this crowd, and no one would even stop to speak to her. Marja began to fear the worst. Perhaps she slipped on the pier and fell into the frigid water? Maybe a stranger had taken her? Marja had turned her back for only a moment, but that had been enough.

As she sat on her knees in the soft, powdery snow, untouched by the cold, a group of teens approached her. There were four, and all were dressed like the Scandinavian black metal crowd of the early 1990s—black clothing, spiked dog collars, facial piercings, and black hair. When they approached, Marja saw that there were two girls and two boys, but from a distance it was hard to distinguish them. They looked so much alike they could have been quadruplets. They were silent and graceful; where Marja and the rest of the tourists struggled through the snow, they all seemed to float, even though their feet touched the ground.

One girl, with long jet hair and black lipstick, sank to her knees in front of Marja. Black on black on black, Marja thought dully, as she watched the girl.

“I heard you. You are looking for your daughter, right?” the girl asked. Up close, Marja could see that she was young, barely out of her teens, and her voice had that musical quality of youth, so confident and self-assured.

“Yes! My little girl, Ansa. She is five—” The girl waived her hand, cutting Marja off.
“Yes, I heard you shouting.”

“Have you seen her? Please tell me!” Marja begged, looking from the girl to the other silent three figures. “Where is she?”

“You don’t know?” she looked at Marja in wonder. “No, you don’t, do you? Incredible.”

“Know what? What’s going on?” Marja’s words took on a shrill note. Suddenly, the crowd felt menacing, claustrophobic even. The gothic architecture of the Cathedral no longer seemed like tacky Vegas couture, but instead loomed above the square, watching and waiting.

The girl smiled, but it was a sad thing that both broke Marja’s heart and froze the blood in her veins. She took Marja’s hands in hers; they were as cold as the snow should have been.

“It’s not my place to tell you, Marja, not yet. Go home. Ansa is there, waiting for you.” She kissed Marja’s hands, leaving black lipstick staining the backs of them, then stood. She and the other three began to walk off.

“Wait! How do you know our names? How do you know Ansa is at home?” she called, but the quartet kept moving and were soon swallowed up by the very crowd that cared nothing for Marja’s plight. She noted dully that the girl had left no prints in the snow.

She sat in the snow that she didn’t feel for a moment, then struggled to her feet. There was nothing else for her to do, she realized; she had to go home, if for nothing else, to contact the police. The revelers in the square were certainly no help. She looked around bitterly, then slowly made her way home, occasionally stumbling in the deepening snowdrifts.

After an hour, she found herself on her street. The moonlight overhead was cold and distant, and the tree-lined street was draped in shadows; the snow was pristine, untouched with either car tracks or footprints. Up and down the street, houses were awash in a golden glow, but none of it filtered through the trees.

Marja’s breathing was harsh as she pushed onward. Soon, she arrived at her house; it was a colorful affair, a narrow, two-story pastel blue, so common in this neighborhood. All the lights were blazing with warm, yellow light, and there were dozens of people pacing in front of the windows.

“What is going on?” Marja breathed. This wasn’t right; they hadn’t been planning a party. What had Elias, her husband, done?

She followed a couple whom she didn’t know as they walked up to the door and rang the bell. Suddenly she felt alone and terrified, although she didn’t know why.

The door opened, and there stood Elias, but he was different. He was still the handsome man she had married, but he was older—his chestnut-brown hair was now streaked with silver, and he had gone ever so slightly soft around the middle. His blue eyes were still merry, however, as he welcomed the couple with a smile.

“Welcome! So good to see you!” Elias opened the door wider to allow entrance. Behind him, Marja saw the family room had changed as well: gone was the blue wallpaper she loved; in its place was dull beige paint, something she never would have chosen.

As the couple entered the house, a woman came up behind Elias and handed him a glass. She was pretty, an older woman, with white blonde hair. He thanked her and gave her a quick peck on the lips.

“Elias, what’s going on?” Marja began to get dizzy, and she lurched into the house just in time to avoid the closing door.

Inside, the heat was stifling; while the cold outside didn’t touch her, this heat was overbearing. She reached out to touch Elias, and he easily evaded her hand. As she stood in the center of the room, surrounded by people who ignored her, she heard Elias shout, “Ansa! Your fiancé and his sister are here!”

A woman who was instantly recognizable raced down the stairs. It was Marja, when she was a teenager, or so it seemed. As Marja stared at this mirror image, the girl’s face broke out into a large smile and then she launched herself at the young man Marja had followed into the house, who caught her in mid-air.

A small cry escaped Marja’s throat as the girl looked around the room. The girl’s smile became sad as she said, “I’m so happy everyone is here. I only wish mother could be here with us.”

Elias gently hugged his daughter. “She would be happy that we are happy. Your stepmother and I are very proud of you, and your mother would be as well.”

The blonde woman at Elias’s side reached out and hugged Ansa closely. “Of course, Marja would be proud of you. How couldn’t she? You’re beautiful, about to go to university, and engaged to this wonderful man here.” Ansa beamed at the woman’s praise, and Marja’s despair deepened.

As the room began to spin, Marja stumbled, and then the world blinked out.

Marja stood in the middle of the city square, a tiny speck amongst the hustle and bustle of the vast city. It was early winter, the Christmas season, and snow blanketed the ground up to her calves, but the bitter winds didn’t touch her. She looked around, frantically calling her daughter’s name.

 


Susan Price is a thirty something writer who currently lives in Northern Georgia. When not writing, she works as an instructor at a local community college and spends her free time thinking up bizarre things to write about.

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