Mikayla Murray went missing twelve years ago, on the eve of her 18th birthday. She didn’t have any big plans or anything, but her friends described her as having been in a particularly good mood for what was otherwise a perfectly normal Friday. She’d gone to school, soccer practice, work, and then came home for a night of Disney movies with her kid brother, James. He’d been more excited for her birthday than she was. He wanted to stay awake with her until midnight, but of course had fallen asleep right away. He woke in the middle of the night to her headlights shining through his window. He watched as they rushed down the country road they lived off of, not knowing that it was the last he’d ever see of her. The poor kid was only five and would be forever tormented over why she’d leave him like that, or why she’d never come back.
It wasn’t until the sun came up on that cold Saturday morning that anyone realized something was wrong. Her parents entered her room to wish her a happy birthday, only to find her bed empty, car gone, and phone off. They started their rounds of calls to all Mikayla’s friends, but nobody had seen or heard from her. Panic really started to set in when Mikayla’s car was found abandoned on the side of a heavily wooded road, pulled off to the side and facing the wrong direction, practically in the middle of nowhere. There were no hiking trails or anything like that, nor were there any signs of struggle, or any evidence of where she might have gone next.
Until Mikayla’s friends followed the road on a map. You see, Mikayla had a boyfriend, Tom. He was a year older and had just gone off to college. He’d been trying to get Mikayla to come visit him but her parents just wouldn’t allow it. But if they had, this was the very road she’d have taken to get there. So while Linda Murray filed the missing person’s report, Paul Murray sped on up that road, all the way to the Tom’s university. Tom swore to him (and, later, the investigators) that he hadn’t seen her in weeks. That he’d been in his room studying that night. His roommate confirmed seeing him early that evening, but then left to go to a party where he’d then spent the night. The police looked deeper into Tom and found strands of Mikayla’s hair in his car. This didn’t prove much, but it spooked Tom enough into changing his story a bit and admitting to have seen Mikayla more recently than he’d said. That he’d picked her up late the weekend prior for a midnight drive. This sounded precisely like what had happened the night she’d gone missing, but police found nothing to substantiate it. Tom was eventually cleared as a suspect, but the Murrays never let it go. They were certain he was involved in her disappearance. So certain, that Paul Murray spent several nights sitting outside Tom’s dorm, waiting to catch his daughter going in or out. Tom’s family ended up taking legal action, which was the end of that. It wasn’t long before the case went cold. The days, weeks, and months passed without any further updates. The people in Mikayla’s life were left with this dark cloud of uncertainty, wondering what had happened to her. If she was out there somewhere.
And she was. She was about to return home after more than a decade. Because I’m Mikayla Murray, and I ran away that night to start a new life.
At least that’s what I told the Murrays. I had no fucking idea what happened to that girl.
You think I’m awful. That’s fine. I don’t disagree. I’m not proud of what I did. I was desperate. Homeless, and on the run. Smoking a pack a day just to function. I owed a lot of money to the wrong people, for some other things that I’m not really proud of. I was stuck and needed a plan.
And then I saw her face. Mikayla Murray. It was on a bulletin board at some cheap motel I’d passed through. There were half a dozen girls on there. But Mikayla stood out, because she looked so much like me. I could’ve swapped in one of my old high school photos and I doubt anyone would’ve noticed. Not that anyone was paying attention to this board or these girls anymore. Even the lady at the motel, who’d spotted me staring, said, “They ain’t comin’ home, but I don’t got the heart to take’em down.” As I ripped another butt later that night, I decided… one of them would be coming home. Mikayla’s family had money, and that was exactly what I needed.
If you’re wondering how I expected to get away with it, I didn’t. I wasn’t planning on being there for more than a night. I did just enough research on Mikayla to get in, find what I could take, and get out. I was going to beg them to give me one day before alerting anybody that I’d returned. To let me rest in my own bed before being swarmed by whatever media Nowhere, Indiana had to offer. Though after miles and miles of corn fields, my guess was that I’d have time to escape that wave. The bus station looked copied and pasted into place, standing out between a small market and gas station. I made sure not to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to risk being mistaken for the town’s longest missing girl, not yet. After one last cigarette, I shoved the pack and the lighter back into my coat pocket, along with my real identity. When I turned down Lincoln Ave, I was no longer me. I was Mikayla Murray.
The Murray’s lived a pretty secluded life. Their home sat alone in the middle of endless planes. I could hardly see their neighbors. I was starting to understand why Mikayla might have run away. Although, the house itself was huge, with an inground pool and a cute little gazebo out back, draped in numerous flags and dreamcatchers.
I rang the bell and felt my stomach sink. What if my dirty-blonde hair wasn’t light enough, or if Mikayla had had some obvious scar I’d overlooked. But when Linda Murray answered the door, she nearly collapsed. She shrieked and clasped her hands to her mouth, bursting into heaves of tears. “Oh my god!” she kept repeating. I stood there awkwardly as she squeezed me tighter than I would have liked. The dog at her legs was barking madly, and all I could think was how pissed off I’d be if I got caught because the dog didn’t recognize my scent.
“What is it, Linda?” Mikayla’s dad called from somewhere inside the house. He eventually appeared behind her and saw me standing there, secretly trying to get myself to cry. He stumbled back.
“Is it really you?” he uttered. His eyes went wide and his bushy grey mustache twitched. The dog was still barking, reminding me that I was in fact a stranger in this house. But I nodded and said, “Yes, daddy. It’s me.”
Before Paul could respond, another taller figure pushed through. Little James was little no more. He was seventeen now, the same age his sister was when she vanished. He still had that same baby face though, only it was pale white, like he hadn’t seen the sun in a while. He was staring right at me, looking almost scared. I panicked for a moment but figured surely, of all people, I’d be safest around James. He’d hardly ever known his sister. Yet the baby blue eyes behind his jet black hair were piercing into mine, and I couldn’t think of anything to say to him. I could feel the cigarettes in my pocket. I needed one bad.
“Come here, baby girl,” Paul breathed. Linda, who was still sobbing and clutching onto me, passed me off like a toy she did not want to share. Paul pulled me into his arms and held even tighter than she had. We rocked back and forth for a moment. “I can’t believe you’re here,” he whispered.
Linda watched with her hands still covering her mouth. “James, come give your sister a hug!” she cried. “It’s sissy!” I wanted to puke. James didn’t move, until Paul grabbed his shoulder and pulled him into us. Linda then joined in as well, and we all just stood there wrapped up in momentary silence.
“Okay, let’s get inside.” Paul said. “It’s cold!”
They escorted me into the foyer where they hung my coat on a hook next to what I assumed was one of Mikayla’s, untouched after all these years. Paul turned, twisted, and latched the few locks on their front door, and I wondered if this had always existed or if it was a result of their daughter having slipped out one night, never to be seen again. I followed the family further inside and was blown away by how nice the interior was, so much so that I’d slipped up and let it show. After all, nothing in this house was supposed to be new to me. I caught James’ eye and feared that he’d noticed. He kept his eyes on me as we passed through room after room, deeper and deeper into the house. Linda kept reaching to touch me in any way, a hand on the back or a light shoulder squeeze. She was still sobbing this deep, painful sob, and it was at this moment that I finally began to feel like the asshole I knew I was. We marched through one living room, past the kitchen, down a hall, and then finally stopped in another living room. Each Murray dropped onto a separate couch. Paul gestured for me to sit next to Linda, who grabbed hold of me as she attempted to settle herself down. It was annoying, but of course I wasn’t going to stop her. James was beside us, staring down at his feet, with Paul right across, beaming at me.
“Baby, first of all, we’re not mad,” he explained. “We just want to know…what happened?” If my actual dad had showed even an ounce of this concern, I might not have run away myself.
I dropped my head and said, “I’m sorry, you guys. I needed to get out of here. I felt stuck. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I didn’t know what to do.” It certainly wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but I wasn’t playing the long-con. I just needed to be passable long enough for me to swipe several of the items we’d passed on our journey to this room.
Paul nodded slowly. He looked guilty and it made me feel bad. “Okay… Okay... Where did you go, baby?”
“I went north. Tom helped. He introduced me to someone at his school who gave me everything I needed.” This was better, I thought. Added in some details the real Mikayla would know. Although of all the lies to that point, this one felt strangest to tell. The online consensus was that Tom had killed Mikayla. Now I was making him her hero.
“Wow. That’s…quite the adventure,” Paul exclaimed. I looked over at Linda because she was squeezing too hard. Her face lit up when our eyes met, and she just nodded.
“What made you come back?” Paul continued.
I hesitated on this one. So I told the truth. “I found myself in a lot of trouble. Didn’t know where to turn next. I think the only reason I didn’t come home sooner was because I felt embarrassed. And then years went by.”
“What kind of trouble?” Linda gasped. She’d finally let go of me.
“No, Linda,” Paul began. “It’s okay. She’s not a little girl anymore,” he laughed. “That’s her business. Listen baby girl, we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want. All that matters now is you’re home, and you’re safe.”
He was holding onto both of my hands. This made me tear up for real. In just a short period of time, I’d flipped my thinking. Maybe Mikayla was just another stupid teenager rebelling against her parents who were only trying to keep her safe. Maybe she snuck out to celebrate her 18th birthday with her college boyfriend at some frat party. Maybe some random frat guy decided he wanted her. Maybe he slipped something into her drink. Or maybe she got too experimental. Maybe someone offered her something she’d never tried before, and she took it. To be cool. To show off in front of her college boyfriend’s college friends.
I spent my whole life wishing I’d had hers.
“You know what? I have an idea,” Paul said dramatically with a raised finger. “Linda, why don’t you go out… and get stuff for pork sandwiches? And I’ll cook up some tater tots. Yeah?” He was looking at me with raised eyebrows like I was supposed to know what the fuck he was talking about. So I pretended to. This must have been some sort of Murray tradition or Mikayla’s favorite meal or something.
“That sounds great,” I said. I tried not to look at James but the avoidance only made my eyes want to do so even more. And they did. James was still staring blankly at the floor ahead of him.
Linda suddenly hopped up. “Mikayla, sweetie, do you wanna come with me?” I hated how often they were saying her name, and how they spoke to me like I was five.
Before I got a chance to respond, Paul chimed in. “Hun, let her breathe
. Run to the market, I’ll get things started, and you,” he said to me, “go rest up. It’s gonna be crazy here by tomorrow. I just wanna have one night as a family first, yeah?”
I could not have agreed more. Everything was going exactly as I had planned. There was a really shiny, diamond-studded vase calling my name, right next to an autographed jersey of some football player I’d never heard of. I was gonna walk out with one while wearing the other.
“You remember where your room is right?” James said to me after Linda and Paul walked off. I obviously had no idea where anything was, so I joked back.
“Oh I thought this was it.”
He gave a half-hearted huff and beckoned me to follow him upstairs. “Do you wanna hangout? Watch a movie or something?”
“Sure. Try to stay awake this time.” He either didn’t like that one, or didn’t get it. I followed behind as he sauntered to his room. There were several doors in that upper hallway and I worried I was going to have to guess later which one was Mikayla’s.
James’ room was surprisingly clean. The baggy jeans and messy hair gave me a totally different vibe. His bed was made, his walls were bare, and the desk in the corner looked like it was hardly ever used, even though it probably was every day. The one window in the room had a perfect view of the backyard and the setting sun beyond the fields.
I heard a lock click.
“Why did you come here?” James muttered. He slowly turned to face me. My heart stopped.
“What do you mean?”
“Why are you here?” he repeated in a forceful whisper. He was now eyeing me madly.
“Look. I’m really sorry I left you. I feel terrible about it. I always have.”
He shook his head and started to tear up, like he couldn’t bare to hear it. He then rushed towards me, and for a moment I thought he was going to attack me. But he brushed past and stopped at the window. “Remember when I climbed the gazebo? And fell?”
Nope. Had no idea what he was talking about.
“Of course I remember,” I pleaded.
He laughed to himself and then marched right on up to me, grabbing me by the shoulders. “That’s weird, because Dad built it after she left, you fucking idiot.” He tossed me backward and spun off towards his closet. He started throwing clothes in a duffle bag. “We need to go,” he said. “Now.”
My whole body was tingling. I knew I was caught, but I still wasn’t sure what to do.
“Do you understand what’s happening here?” he continued. “He knows
. He knew the whole time.”
I finally gave it up. “What gave it away?”
He stopped to look back. “Because we know where she is!”
I was confused. This wasn’t in any of the theories I’d read online. “Where is she?”
James shook his head in frustration. He grabbed me by the arm and dragged me to the window. “She’s right fucking there,” he spat with a finger pointed outward.
I looked out into the yard past the covered pool where the gazebo sat lifeless and weather worn, with noticeable chips in its white paint. The fact that James couldn’t bare to look at it told me what he was thinking. I frowned. “What makes you think that?”
He rushed back for the bag and threw more things inside. “He built it the week she left,” he said with emphasis on every other word. “And they never use it during the day. Never
I wasn’t convinced. James was so young when it happened, and clearly torn up over it, as was reported in everything I’d read about the case. When he noticed my skepticism, he huffed an annoyed sigh and turned to a dresser drawer, rummaging through before pulling out what he was looking for and jamming it into my gut. I reached down for it. It was a dirty, purple bracelet, all stretchy and rubber. It had her name on it. I played with it in my hand before slipping it onto my wrist.
“Remi dug that up a couple years ago. That’s our dog by the way,” he added sarcastically. “Dropped it right at my feet. And I remember it! I remember her wearing it that night!” He sounded crazy. He tried to keep his voice down, which only made him seem crazier.
“You saw her drive off,” I said to him.
“I saw her car drive off.”
My mind was racing. “Why haven’t you called the cops by now? Or run away?”
“Because I can’t!” he urged a bit louder than he meant to. “He’ll kill us! All
of us.” He settled down and continued. “Listen to me, we’re dead if we go downstairs. We need to leave. Right now.”
He was panting. I didn’t move, didn’t speak. He lowered his head in defeat and threw the bag over his shoulder, making his way for the window and starting to crawl out of it. “Please come,” he tried one last time, half in and half out. I was frozen. I listened for any sign of danger outside the room but it was silent. I thought, this was crazy, right? And then I thought about how much I wanted a cigarette. That was how I made my decision. I took James’ hand and he helped me climb out. Together we scurried on the roof of the back porch and then dropped down onto the rather large portico above the back door. I’d almost fallen down the side but James held me up.
“Okay, we’re gonna run,” he explained as we crouched close together. He was nervous and out of breath. “The sheriff’s downtown. We’ll use the corn for cover. Stay close.” I nodded. Part of me was starting to actually believe him. He jumped first, and I followed. We took off. James was much faster than me. I looked back quick and saw Paul through the large French windows in the kitchen. I didn’t look long enough to see his reaction, but I could tell he was watching us. I kept running. The dying grass looked like it would never end. There was a road in the distance, the same road I’d trudged along to get there. But it felt like it was never getting any closer.
A gun shot rang loud. Paul had fired a rifle into the air. He was shouting out at us. I’d just reached the gazebo. James was nearly fifty yards ahead of me. I stopped to catch my breath, holding myself up on one of the gazebo railings. I was regretting all the cigarette smoking.
And then I did the most impulsive thing I think I’ve ever done. I took my lighter out, and lit that fucking thing on fire. The flags, the dream catchers, whatever I could. It took a couple tries, but once it caught, that was it. I had no idea if Mikayla was really under there or if James was just crazy with grief. But either way, I was out of there and I was never coming back. So I lit it up. I watched the flames dance along the darkening sky. Paul had started running towards it, and at that moment, Linda had pulled into the driveway. I could hear her shrill voice shouting to her husband. I was off and running again. But much to my surprise, James had stopped. He was coming back in my direction.
“What did you do!” he shouted before passing me. I was confused. I watched him race toward the fire, knowing that it was long past fixing. “No!” James kept shouting. He was hysterical. It was like he was watching his actual sister burn. He dropped to his knees and broke down. I wanted to go comfort him but Paul was closing in. I had to get out of there.
I made one last dash without ever looking back. By the time I’d reached the road, the sharp pain in my side had crippled me. I was barely able to move. I ducked into the corn fields and followed along Lincoln Ave that way, in case the Murrays got into their car to chase after me. Every time I heard a car pass, I dropped to the ground and waited. I was terrified. It must’ve been another hour before I made it back to the station. I was prepared to get onto the next bus no matter where it was going, it didn’t matter. But busses were done for the night. There wouldn’t be another until the following day. I cursed out loud. A man pumping gas in his truck next door had heard me and asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine, when he offered me a ride. He asked if I was going south, to which I said yes. Truthfully, I wanted to go northwest, but I just needed to get the fuck out of there. So yes, I hopped into a stranger’s truck. He was an old man, I never felt in danger or anything close to it. He seemed nice. And after the day I had, I wasn’t in a position to be picky.
We drove in silence for a while. It was now pitch black out. The headlights pushed through the surrounding fields of black. It was eerie. The old man tried to spark up conversation, but I wasn’t feeling it. He’d asked if I wanted the radio on or off, if I was hungry, if I was cold, hot. Each time, I told him I was fine.
“I know it ain’t my business, young lady, but are you sure you’re okay?” he eventually asked me. It was clear that I was not. I nodded and assured him once more that I was fine. My mind was still back on Lincoln Ave, wondering what had been happening that very moment at the Murray household. Or if Mikayla really was buried under the now burnt rubble. Or if her brother had just lost his mind.
“Will you tell me your name at least?” the old man had said, breaking my daydream.
I paused. I looked down at my fidgeting hands and noticed the purple bracelet tight along my wrist, the pink lettering of Mikayla’s name flashing with every passing street light. I’d forgotten that I was still wearing it.
Relax. I didn’t do what you think I did.
UPDATE: I really fucked up, you guys...I can’t stop shaking.... https://www.reddit.com/useJcote12/comments/jx6cm7/update_on_mikayla_murray/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=iossmf