..And Find the Lost

For my very first blog entry, this is for a contest to write flash fiction inspired this picture: (This is my first time blogging with this site, so bear with me!)

…And Find the Lost

“I hate this place. You said this would be a wonderful place to spend a week as a family. It will be beautiful, quaint, educational. You know what, I want a divorce.” Her mother said this like it was funny, a joke.

Rachel cringed inside, even as the bus they were in hit a bump in the road and a jab into her chest. Actually, the physical pain took some of the edge off. She was thirteen, an only child – because God in his wisdom after seeing what she had to go through had not blessed her parents with any more children. At least that was her running theory. Sometimes, she also thought aliens could have been involved.

“It’s not that bad,” her father said. Dad was five foot five with dark brown hair and he worked in insurance. Mom was a little taller than him and she was in advertising and made a lot more than her dad, which both her parents hated. But they still loved one another, allegedly.

The idea to come to Nepal for their family vacation had been one of many spectacularly unwise moves of late. Her mom had visited here when she was younger as part of her radical youth and for some reason her dad thought it would help to go back again. But her mom was gone, had sold out to corporate fascism years ago, and how could her dad not have seen it?

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Amanda Wright realized her daughter was missing as she stood on the edge of Tilicho Lake, looking out past the clear water, up at the imposing heights of the white, snow-capped mountains. It had only been twenty years, but it felt like forever since she had been in this beautiful, godforsaken country as part of a well-meaning humanitarian group called People for the People of Nepal. Of course, it had been her idea to come here again, and she knew that, and she should probably stop blaming the rest of the universe for it. Her husband, Tim, was still asleep, at their campsite.

Rachel had not been at the campsite, because she had decided to go for a walk. That girl was so much trouble, never listening and never doing what she was told, because she thought she knew everything, exactly as Amanda had been at her age. They had told her, clearly, to stay in sight of the tent. But no.

Then, as if waking up from a long sleep, Amanda realized. They were not back in Chicago. They were not in a decent, suburban neighborhood where her daughter might get attacked by muggers, true, but she knew her fears were irrational, so she forced herself to ignore them. They were in one of the most dangerous parts of the world, an area where they had only brought their daughter now, because she was barely old enough to safely take the trip with them.

Amanda ran back to the campsite, felt herself lose some of her wind and pushed back the nausea long enough to continue at a brisk pace, forcing herself to take deep breaths.

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Rachel did not know when she realized she was lost. She had pencil and sketch pad and was writing and sketching and thinking as she walked around, capturing her thoughts with flicks of her finger as letters and lines appeared like magic on the bleak white landscape of her imagination. Nepal was not a barren place at all, the miles of white streaked with meaningful jags of color, green, and blue and grey.

Sunlight pierced the clear, fresh air and passed judgment on miles of bleak landscape, unimpeded by thick atmosphere and the buzzing hum of cars and millions of people.

She liked Nepal. That is, until she realized she had no idea how to get back to camp. She tried to remember which way she had gone, what direction the sun had been when she set out. Even if she could remember, she had left her compass in the tent, along with everything except for pencil and paper, because that had been all she wanted at the time.

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“I’m sure she’ll come back when she’s ready,” Tim said, still relaxing in a chair by the tent. “But we can look for her if you want.”

“I do want. Please. I just came back from the lake so I know she wasn’t there or on the way. I’m going to get some help.”

“Help?”

“We passed some homes on the way here.”

“You mean – those…” He paused, looking for the words. “I can’t believe human beings live like that.”

“Yeah, well, those human beings might just save your daughter’s life.” Of course, Amanda thought, but did not say, he had wanted a boy. And she refused to try again so he could have one. Never again.

Amanda was amazed to find she still knew enough Nepalese to convey what she needed to the inhabitants of the small village east of them. After that, they had enough searchers to spread out and give them a reasonable chance of finding Rachel. They did, just southwest of their camp, wisely and quietly waiting for the people she knew would be coming to find her.

Afterward, they all gathered back at the camp, the locals staying around only long enough to give faint smiles. To the two men who had found their daughter, Amanda offered half of their rations, determining that they could replenish from their next stop in civilized territory. They refused, able to see and to judge that this family was for the moment as much in need as they were. Amanda had some Nepalese currency, not much, from making change and that they accepted. Then they too left, clearly appreciative of the gesture. Her daughter looked shaken, her small cherubic face paler than usual, her short dark hair tousled, but otherwise well.

“What on earth were you thinking?”

“Oh, relax,” Tim said. “It’s fine. Look, she’s fine. And I’m sure she would have found her way eventually.”

“No, daddy, I wouldn’t. I was waiting for you. I had no idea which way I went and knew if I kept walking in the wrong direction it would only make things worse.”

Amanda glanced in her husband’s direction with a scathing look, then, still holding her daughter on both sides, said, “You did the right thing honey. Don’t ever go out of sight of the campsite again unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing. But if you do, that is exactly the right thing.”

“Thanks, mom, for coming to find me.” Mother and daughter exchanged a long hug, both of them crying, as behind her, Amanda heard her husband talking, maintaining his distance.

“You really were lost. I had no idea. I’m so sorry.”