Found Missing

Fiction by Coleman Bigelow

It was windy that day, and I remember the chill I couldn’t shake. We were headed to the falls, a favorite hangout above town and the perfect spot to get high. My bike wobbled and I struggled to pedal forward on that county road. Every time the wind gusted, I felt like a sheet left flapping in a storm. When we reached the turnoff, I spotted the carcass. I assumed it was standard roadkill, some groundhog or possum crushed by one of the logging trucks in the area.

Howie got to the body first. He was a compact but stocky wrestler, with a coiled intensity that made kids either respect or fear him. I didn’t like Howie. He had narrow eyes that reminded me of my stepdad, and the same spiteful sneer. But he always had the best weed, so I went along with the group. There were three other boys that day, all part of a crew who could never say no to Howie.

“It’s a cat!” Howie yelled, sounding almost delighted. I backpedaled and my bike sent dust flying across the cat’s black fur. I could see then that the cat had a collar. There were tire tracks across the cat’s midsection and flies hovering over its leaking guts. Its eyes shone like mirrors – shiny buttons reflecting a happier past. I remembered then how our old cat, Mr. Bojangles, used to nudge and nuzzle his head against my fingers after leaping into my lap. My stepdad had forced us to give away our cat when he moved in. He was allergic, he explained. It was funny how my stepdad was allergic to all parts of my mom’s former life, including me.

“What do you think a house cat’s doing all the way up here?” one boy asked, crowding closer.

“Maybe it was hunting,” someone else said. I stepped back and left the others to their inspections.

“Or maybe it got lost.”

“Who cares?” Howie said, snatching the cat up by its tail and swinging it around his head. The cat’s body had already stiffened, but part of its intestine stretched outward as Howie twirled the body in the air. At the sight, I felt the simultaneous urge to vomit and to deck him.

“Let’s see how far we can throw it.” Howie said, laughing, and one of the other boys shook his head, “You’re a sick fuck, Howie.” I stood frozen as he walked over to the ravine, dragging the animal by his side. When Howie reached the edge, I wanted to shove him, to watch his body tumble and smash on the jagged rocks below, but I remained paralyzed—caught in some kind of twisted slow-motion movie.

Howie looped the cat’s bent body once, twice and then three times around his head before releasing it to the air. The body slammed into the other side of the ravine, spilling more of the cat’s insides, before tumbling down to the bottom somewhere a hundred feet below.

“Who wants to smoke?” Howie asked, proceeding to light a joint his older brother had supplied. I’m embarrassed to say I took a hit. In fact, I took more hits that day than I ever had before. I just kept thinking about that cat and how it had been someone’s pet.

“You look sick, Brooksie,” one boy said, nudging my shoulder. I didn’t respond. Instead, I just sat there staring down at the speck of black below. Eventually, Howie and the others left in pursuit of a bottle of Jim Beam stashed at one of their houses. I told them I’d catch up, but as soon as they were gone, I scrambled–crawling and slipping–down into the ravine. 

By the time I reached the cat, the knees of my pants were caked with mud. I removed the cat’s collar, which had a stainless-steel tag dangling from it. After removing the collar, I could see one side was etched with a cat’s face, and the other side had contact details. The cat’s name was BLACKOUT. I didn’t recognize the street listed in the address, but I stuffed the collar into my pocket. Then I dug a small hole. As I covered the cat’s body with loose earth and stones, I flashed to the memory of the shovel dropping dirt over my dad’s casket.

At home, I went straight to my room, laid on my bed and watched the ceiling spin. The weed had me flying, but something else was making me dizzy. I felt trapped on an endless theme park ride—the kind that keeps turning long after you’re ready to exit. Sometime later, I woke to the shouting of my stepfather. He stormed into my room, red-faced and spitting. A blurry demon fast approaching.

“How many times have I told you to take your shoes off?” I heard him bellowing. Before I could prop myself up, he’d reached my bed and was pulling me out. Dragging my body like that lifeless cat. “You tracked mud all over the carpets!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, jerking my arm free and shoving past him. “I’ll clean it up.” 

“Don’t walk away from me,” he shouted and slammed me into the wall. There was a shooting pain in my shoulder as I crumpled to the floor. “You’re pathetic,” he said, squinting down at me. “I expect you to take care of this mess before your mother gets home.” I stayed there on the ground until I heard him go out. Until the sound of his truck’s engine pulled away.

It was dark in the house and I stood gingerly, pressing my shoulder with my left hand. I squeezed, trying to force out the stinging ache. I remember gripping the meat of my arm, holding on like the whole thing might drop from my body if I let go.

In the kitchen, I took down the cordless phone and dialed the number.

A lady answered. Her voice was soft but clear with a tiny hitch in her Hello. A greeting like some kind of broken bell.

“Is this the owner of Blackout?” I asked in a shaky voice.

“Yes,” she said urgently, and I could almost picture her leaning forward, clasping the phone closer to her ear.

I paused and felt my chin trembling. Suddenly unsure of my words. “I, um, well, I’m calling because I found Blackout.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful.” The woman’s voice tilted upward. “Oh, thank goodness.”

“Well, no. I mean, I’m so sorry…”

“Oh…,” Then, I could hear a sudden shudder beneath her breath. “Oh, I see.”

“Yeah, I found the body, and I saw the collar.”

“Where? Where did you find him?”

“He was up by the quarry, but… the body wasn’t in good shape.” I don’t know why I shared this detail.

There was a tiny sob from the other end of the line.

“I’m so sorry. I just thought you would want to know.”

“Yes. Yes, of course,” she said in a quiet tone. “Thank you for calling.”

I waited for her to hang up, but she didn’t disconnect immediately. The two of us sat on the line together for several silent seconds. When a salty slick reached the corner of my mouth, I wiped at my face with the back of my hand.

 “It’s good of you to call,” she said finally before hanging up.

Snot ran from my nose. I sniffed and rubbed my eyes. I was desperate to avoid my mom seeing me like this, and I knew I still had to clean up. My shoulder throbbed. It would continue hurting for the rest of that month but, when I think of that day, I don’t think of the physical pain. I think of that woman on the other end of the line and how quickly her mood shifted from elation to grief. I think about all the ways love and cruelty can coexist.

Coleman Bigelow

Coleman Bigelow’s stories have appeared recently or are upcoming in Bullshit Lit, Cease Cows, Cosmic Daffodil, Heavy Feather Review, and Your Impossible Voice. Find more at: