New Millennium Writings

Editor's Choice Award

Kristin Kostick of Houston, Texas for "Disappeared"

Recipient of the Inaugural New Millennium Editor’s Choice Award

Kostick will receive our newly designed, custom Editor’s Choice Award Medal to mark the success.
“Disappeared” will receive publication both online and in print.


By Kristin Kostick


That summer in Vegas, kids were disappearing left and right. Stories came out every week in the news about kidnappings, flash floods sweeping kids from drainage ditches, kids last seen at gas stations or truck stops and never heard from again. Their missing faces were plastered in the usual places: milk cartons, backs of trucks, telephone poles, bulletin boards at the grocery store. Have you seen me? You got the sense that you, too, could just slip away at any moment, the whole of you reduced to a fog or a breeze. It was 1989, the days before TV and video games were go-to forms of play, when parents told their kids to “go play outside.” My parents didn’t much care what my brother and I did, as long as we stayed out of trouble. Lee and I banded together with the other neighborhood kids – Tim and his sister Teresa, and Lindsay, the socially awkward only child who lived at the far end of the cul-de-sac – to wander through the dusty undeveloped lots in a clearing behind our houses, kicking over scraps of metal or cardboard to scavenge for a makeshift clubhouse. Every so often, we came across grubby copies of Hustler or Penthouse or Club left in the dirt, and in the heat of the morning, we’d huddle around, flipping and staring into the stiff, grimy pages. None of us dared take them home. Our unspoken agreement was that whatever we did out there in the frontier of that construction site – ghosted-out with the foreign and terrifying relics of adulthood abandoned in the dirt – remained separate from what we did in the streets of our own neighborhood: roller-skating, riding bikes, swimming in each other’s pools. Our cul-de-sac was our playground, safely quarantined from the bad stories we heard on the nightly news, from the abductions, from the stabbings and shootings down on the Strip near Fremont Street. The edge of our neighborhood marked an implicit boundary.

But just beyond it lay our construction zone, that dry expanse of desert where our imaginations were free to run wild, detached from parents and homework, those casual reinforcements of reality. The construction itself seemed to have ceased temporarily, as if the city had mysteriously called off any progress. It seemed to exist all the more, then, just for us, our miniature version of the Western frontier. The enormous lot was far enough away to constitute a kind of unleashing, where we sensed the rules were different, though we didn’t yet know how. Even the dirt looked different, loosened and upturned instead of orderly and compact as in our neighborhood garden landscapes with their choreographed cacti. But the lot was also close enough, we thought, to come back home whenever we wanted, which made it our sacred, in-between place, a testing ground.

• • •

For the better part of the morning, Lee and Tim tried to start the engine of a tractor sitting in the middle of the clearing. No one else was around. They scrambled up the side and into the tractor’s cockpit, staring in bewilderment at the overwhelming array of levers and unlabeled knobs and switches, controls that looked like appendages of some unfamiliar beast with the capacity to unlock the huge mechanical arm, the monstrous forward-moving treads. The boys were freaked out, curious; they started flipping levers, seeing what might happen. Either with a left-behind key or enigmatic knob, they got the motor started and the whole, atrocious machine rumbled to life under their skinny legs, the claw-like arm traveling up and down, the tractor treads shifting forward in the dirt.

Terrified, they leapt from the tractor, abandoning it mid-life. In an attempt to shut off the engine, Tim shoved a paper towel in the tractor’s air intake. Cut off the beast’s breath. Kill it before it kills you! He must have heard that somewhere – in a movie or a comic book. Whether on account of the towel or some other mystery of the engine, the tractor sputtered to a stop and the claw arm thudded into the dirt with defeat. Shaken up, the boys ran from the construction site, weaving through the roads back to our cul-de-sac, already reformulating in their minds how to exaggerate the story for the rest of us. It was like a monster! It was after us, trying to eat us alive!

After the tractor incident, Lee and Tim stayed away from the big machines, stuck to the certain inertness of the scraps. But then something else began to unfold, something better than the tractor, better than anything that had come before, the boys told us. One afternoon, back at the construction site, after an hour or two of kicking around in the dirt, they found a clearing they decided would be the perfect spot to tunnel out a fort. They had gotten their hands on a shovel, probably stolen from my dad’s garage. Trading it back and forth, they dug hard into the dirt, more like dried clay, heaving small clumps of desert onto the ground behind them. Before long, they had dug over a foot down. Then a foot and a half. At this rate, the fort would take forever. But the boys knew it was possible. My dad had said one night over dinner that there were immense cave systems out in the desert and no one knew where they led. Maybe the miners had made them in the days of the Old West. Maybe outlaws used them to store stolen riches and hooch, to hide their helpless captives. Maybe that’s where all the kids are going, I had suggested, flattening my peas into a perfect green savannah.

The shovel suddenly hit something not-dirt. Something was down there, something the boys hadn’t been looking for. But what could be buried in the middle of an empty construction lot? The fact that they had come across something buried in the exact spot where they had been digging out their fort made it seem plausible to the boys that they were destined to find whatever it was.

After digging out around it and leaning into the hole to grab ahold, they hauled the object out with their four hands and plopped it on the ground. They stared down at it. Square. Fake leather. A handle. A briefcase? They squatted down to fumble with the rolling combination, but it was locked. They hovered over it, as if waiting for it to auto-resuscitate. To them, this was not just a briefcase. It was a vision, a vessel containing the utterly unknown, the kind of treasure we had all what-iffed about after watching movies like The Goonies and The Neverending Story. Sure, it was dingy and caked in dry desert earth, but as they exchanged glances the boys knew it was certain to contain riches, gold bullion, straight from some heist, maybe a cache of neatly stacked hundred-dollar bills. Or jewels! Stolen diamonds, precious sapphire. The mafiosos might be coming up from their downtown casinos any minute to reclaim it. “We have to break it open,” my brother said.

• • •

Lee and Tim never budged from the original way they told it, that the briefcase really had been buried exactly where they had started digging. When the boys later told us, all of us sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk at the half-way point of our cul-de-sac, we said there was no way that could be true. Too much of a coincidence. The boys were either making it up, or something else was going on. But what? We started thinking up possible explanations, thinking anything might be possible there. That place was out of our jurisdiction, could operate under rules of nature we had never fathomed. Teresa said maybe the quality of dirt in that spot, having been dug up once before, looked subconsciously more diggable, softer somehow. I suggested that maybe there was something magnetic about the spot that attracted our brains through ESP. Lindsay’s contribution was to try to stifle her giggles long enough to say something, but she couldn’t.

What was in it?! I imagine that as we leaned forward, our circle looked from above like a flower closing its bloom.

With a rock or a wrench from the construction lot, Lee and Tim had hacked away at the cheap, faux-gold lock until it smithereened. This was it, the defining moment. Opening with slow, painstaking caution, they anticipated the amber light of gold reflected upon their cheeks, or the sparkle of diamonds against the background of dirt. But what if it was a severed arm, or a dead animal? They were both prepared and not prepared for anything.

The lid made a dry cracking sound when they leaned it back to peer inside. Here was their treasure trove, what they had toiled so long to excavate. Their shaky palms reached towards the contents, unsure whether to make physical contact. There they sat, stacks and stacks of crusty, ripped, mangled porn magazines from the 1970s and ‘80s, pushed against the case’s lining, unkempt, as if someone had stashed them away quickly, getting rid of the evidence in a hurry. The boys looked down it in disbelief. It couldn’t be just this, there must be something more. The pages were brittle, curled up at the edges. With pinched fingers, they picked up the magazines one by one, hoping something might be underneath them all, deep at the remote bottom of the suitcase, a payoff for their scrupulous toils. They pawed their way to the briefcase’s lining, casting the magazines out one by one. Once they all lay in a heap of sullied paper on the dirt, the boys peered down into the briefcase’s empty shell, the inside fabric a little frayed, smelling of mildew.

• • •

The milk-carton kids were different every week, sometimes multiple kids on different cartons within a few days. Why not put their faces on cigarette packs or boxes of donuts, objects of consumption for people who might actually be capable of finding them? Merely kids ourselves, we felt helpless to do anything but memorize the others’ faces, look around at other girls and boys in the grocery stores and movie theatres wondering: Could she be the one from this week? Will I see his face in a month or two? Teresa and Lindsay and I considered saving all the cut-out heads and making a collage, or a game where we could somehow match them by distinctive features into some revelatory pattern. The whole enterprise of trying to find the kids seemed futile, an elaborate farce to make the parents of the missing ones believe they might one day be found.

In a way, we all participated in the lie. In the mornings, I slurped spoonful after spoonful of cereal and scrutinized the smiling face on the carton. I tried to picture the child wearing a different expression, maybe wide-eyed with shock and fear in the midst of capture, or weeping alone in the darkness of some van or improvised dungeon. But in my imagination, I could only picture again and again the same disturbing image. It was of the kid-of-the-week stumbling around in the desert with the milk-carton cut-out of its smiling paper head balanced on its shoulders, like a stick-figure or a Potato-Head doll. I could not picture them all as real. That was too scary. With the rest of the city, I pretended they were really out there somewhere, with their real heads, their real mouths shaping the repetitive “o” in home, bring me home.

Maybe it was the backdrop of these stories, or the sheer eeriness of that vast, deserted construction zone that imbued the whole summer with a feeling that, just beyond the edges of what we could see, something perilous lurked, lying dormant. Even something about the sunlight, gleaming off the abandoned tractors and metal scraps, seemed decidedly spooky, like light from another, distant world invading our own. Over the rooftops we could make out the jagged mountains framing our valley, containing our city. Beyond that, more and more desert, a world of spiky, armored plants and animals we knew better from imagination than observation.

• • •

One day Lee and Tim led us girls out to the construction zone. The boys had finally built the fort. We looked out over the clearing, nothing visible but dirt and more dirt, the tractor, and some discarded scraps of wood and cardboard.

“You can’t see it from the surface,” Lee said. We followed them, our grubby sneakers padding over the ground, to a dusty wooden pallet lying in the dirt. Lee bent down to lift it with two scrawny arms, revealing a small, black hole mined into the ground. Lindsay erupted with giddy laughter, and Teresa and I stepped back, amazed. The boys, not hiding their pride, watched our surprise with delight. “You guys built… a cave?” I asked.

The four of us scooted down the hole along a makeshift ladder and came to sit shoulder-to-shoulder on the dirt floor of a three-by-three-foot crawlspace. It was pitch black, save for the stream of light cutting through from above. Particles of dust whirled about our heads. The ceiling was held up by cardboard boxes and wooden armatures to keep the space from falling in on itself. We craned our necks toward the dim walls and ceiling to see that every inch of the fort’s interior was covered with the brittle magazine clippings of naked women sprawled with their high-heeled feet angled upwards or outwards, their ‘70s-era hairstyles framing erotic expressions, lips parted to voice a barely audible Ohhh, eyes half-mast in perpetually pending orgasm. Not that any of us knew what “orgasm” was back then. All we knew, the four of us huddled into that hotbox, was that we finally had our clubhouse. There, among the discarded and co-opted artifacts of the adult world, we could do whatever we wanted.

• • •

We could never have articulated what that fort was actually doing for us kids back then, psychologically-speaking. According to various theorists ranging from Freud to Piaget to Eriksen, imaginative “play,” of which the fort was arguably a physical manifestation, is an important if not evolutionarily significant aspect of personal and social development. Eriksen calls it “the royal road to the understanding of the infantile ego’s efforts at synthesis.” In Childhood and Society, he wrote that kids construct spaces and scenarios full of creative associations, semi-magical “if-thens,” rules and  hypothetical consequences for breaking them (as in, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” etc.), all of which come together into what Eriksen calls the “microsphere,” a kind of mini-world circumscribed by imagination. As the play continues to unfold, the microsphere acquires more and more complicated terrain, until its geography is so elaborate that it is “endowed with its own sense of reality and mastery,” resisting full comprehension or replicability by anyone or anything outside of it.

All of this happens for a reason, Eriksen says. There’s a function of play for the child’s budding ego, “an attempt to synchronize the bodily and the social processes with the self.” Play is what helps us figure out what to do with ourselves in a world we are still getting to know, one we don’t fully trust. That summer, we were testing the waters beyond our neighborhood sanctuary to see just how far we could go, literally surrounding ourselves with the very articles that symbolized to us the unknown, the forbidden, the women’s pornographic mouths open like ominous entrances to uncharted caves.

And while the significance of play is what happens in the mind, “the child’s play begins with and centers on his own body,” Eriksen goes on. It happens in the corporeal world. Consider a baby playing with its toes, what’s going on in that baby’s brain when it reaches out towards its own body like a foreign object. Eriksen calls this “autocosmic play,” beginning before we even notice it as a play. There’s a brilliance to the term “autocosmic,” with its implication of a  self-made, reflexive cosmos, an interior universe full of interconnected constellations and uncharted galaxies that point inward, but by some baffling feat of psychological engineering seem to be outside of us, apart from us.

A side of me thinks that if all of this is true, then everything about that construction zone assumes more significance. For example, it wasn’t important what was in the briefcase, but what we thought might be in the briefcase. And come to think of it, why didn’t we just build the fort on top of the ground (out of the same cardboard, metal scraps, etc.) instead of under the ground, subterranean, out of view? The element of excavation seems meaningful in hindsight, figuring out how far down we could go (or Lee and Tim could dig) before butting up against the ends of possibility, or in that case, the hard strata of the Mojave Desert. Eriksen says that kids construct microspheres with whatever tools are available from their physical and cultural surroundings. We went as far as we could with Dad’s shovel, some cardboard and wood, a briefcase of porn, and the idea of the frontier. Before long, the dark fort, the mottled, empty briefcase, the ominous light of the empty lot, became part of a world we could no longer see, but could only see through, a strange mutating lens. Going out there was like falling into a kind of “group-think” – the way people in cults do when there’s not enough information coming in from outside to put your beliefs into perspective. It’s so gradual you don’t see it happening. The anything-goes mentality of the fort was becoming our new reality, to reflect what we understood to be the unsteady rule of law beyond the walls of our childhood, out there in large, sparkling Las Vegas, a world of adults where people were killed in knife-fights and women took off their clothes and children disappeared.

By the end of that summer, Lee and I had spent so much time with the neighborhood kids – especially Teresa and Tim – that the boundaries of our fort had bled beyond the construction zone to the perimeter of the neighborhood itself. It no longer seemed strange that every week another Have you seen me? poster was plastered to the telephone poles, or that my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Montoya, watched her Chihuahua blow away in a windstorm, never to be seen again. On our few winding streets, circumscribed by the eerie clearing and, beyond that, the sharp mountains, our make-believe games and imagined scenarios appeared to any ordinary passerby – especially adults – as a harmless bunch of kids on bikes and rollerskates. But to us, we were racing through cities plagued by monsters and bad-guys, traipsing through dangerous, tiger-ridden jungles. We were always somehow at battle, fighting the evil forces and winning victoriously. We were taking charge.

• • •

One of the worst things we did in this vein was to tell Lindsay that we could finally fix her compulsive laughing. Lindsay was the tag-along in our group, a nerdy, frizzy-haired, freckle-faced girl with glasses and a pronounced chuckle-snort, who lived three houses down from us on the right. Her mom was my Girl Scout troop leader, a position she might only have assumed so her daughter could have some friends. But we all thought Lindsay was weird. She was the girl our moms made us invite to our birthday parties every year. During scout meetings, when Lindsay’s mom pricked her freckled arm with the insulin needle, some of us would peek around the corner, watch Lindsay take it with stoic, vacant eyes.

Seeing that was weird, too, because in any other circumstance, Lindsay was always laughing – and not a natural childhood laugh, where the giggle peaks then smoothly decrescendos, you resume control over your facial muscles, and everything goes back to normal. This was different; her laugh was psyched-out, a hungry hyena cackle, nothing graceful in it, nothing girl-like. It sounded desperate and frantic, the sonic equivalent of an invisible hand reaching out from her chest, grasping and flailing, fingers waving and clawing at the air. It was chilling. But it was also something the rest of us kids could make endless fun of, and we did. And Lindsay – probably understanding intuitively that she didn’t have the social capital to leverage a counter-critique – was a good sport when we made fun of her, laughing at her own laugh, which would only make her laugh harder until her face registered a real pain around the eyes and mouth as if to signal that things were not OK but there was nothing she could do to defend against it. None of us understood that maybe her loony laugh was a defense itself.

How painful it was for her to laugh that way makes me feel doubly bad about what we did to her. It happened one afternoon when Teresa, Tim, Lee, and I were taking a day off from the fort and riding our bikes around the neighborhood. We stopped on a sidewalk to perch or rest. Someone told a joke that probably wasn’t even very funny, and Lindsay started cackling loudly and uncontrollably. Long after everyone stopped laughing, Lindsay was still at it, couldn’t keep her shoulders from buckling up to her ears and her mandibles from yacking open and shut. We all stared on, her face contorting into an expression of horror – not at herself but at what was coming from inside of her, and surely at the frightening sight of us slack-faced kids witnessing her lose it, the muscles around her eyes going taut and her freckle-lipped mouth open, almost crying now instead of laughing, her chest heaving in what sounded like sobs. The cackle went on this way, tears streaming down her cheeks, and then hiccups began and all of us gaped, unsure what to do, not wanting to touch her.

It took the better part of five minutes for Lindsay, nearing hyperventilation, to finally stop laughing. One of us asked, “Are you OK?”

Lindsay looked down at the ground, wiping tears from her eyes. “I’m OK. I just wish I didn’t laugh so hard,” she said, still catching her breath. “It hurts.”

It was a moment of truth. Vulnerability bared and stark as the sun-bleached animal bones we tripped over in the desert.

“I just wish I could control it,” Lindsay went on. We all looked at one another. She had said a word that struck a nerve none of us knew we had in us. And that was all it took, a momentarily visible crevice in Lindsay’s good-natured armor, for the rest of us to slip right in. It was either me or my brother who made up the story – maybe to comfort her at first, or maybe because deep down we knew her admission of helplessness opened up a chance for the rest of us to be cruel in the way only kids can be, in a completely unconscious way. We told her, in utterly convincing straight-face, that we had heard of a secret “Anti-Laughing Potion” that she should try, and that if she were up for it – you know, brave enough – we could whip her up a batch to see if that might banish the hyena cackle once and for all.

It was amazing how quickly she agreed, as if she had been waiting for something like this to come along, as if just wanting to believe it could make it true.

• • •

Consider Eriksen’s position that “Often the microsphere seduces the child into an unguarded expression of dangerous themes and attitudes which arouse anxiety and lead to sudden play disruption.” He states that it is perfectly normal for a child to try and “take possession of things in order to test them.” But he goes on to say that danger can arise when kids are denied the ongoing supervision and guidance to ensure that “the forms of play continue to be productive routes to learning.” When that happens, “the child will turn against himself all his urge to discriminate and to manipulate. He will over-manipulate himself, he will develop a precocious conscience.” He will try “to repossess the environment and to gain power by stubborn and minute control.”

Were we turning against ourselves? Why had we jumped so quickly at the chance to fix Lindsay’s problem? We knew that most of our laughing potion story was a lie, that we had no control over Lindsay’s compulsion, or over anything else. And yet, we also imagined that there was the possibility, in our made-up world, that this might actually have some consequence. Our promise of a potion became a test of sorts. How much control did we really have?

At the time, we didn’t realize we could have killed her. After the laughing incident, my brother and I scurried home, rummaged a jumbo-sized plastic 7-11 Slurpee cup from the kitchen cabinets and slammed it squarely on the counter. Spelunking through the under-sink cupboards, we found the Comet and dish soap, and from the bathroom, some bottles of shampoo and conditioner, lining everything up on the kitchen counter alongside the carton of milk from the refrigerator (with the new kid’s face), some orange juice (for taste), various peppers from the pantry, maybe some cinnamon. Once mixed, or rather stirred in its now-semi-gelatinous state – the official Anti-Laughing Potion was a gloppy, yellow-brown muck with enough toxicity in a single drop to send a test mouse to its maker. If this couldn’t stop her from laughing, nothing could.

We took it to her that afternoon, balancing it in the Slurpee cup through the street, down the cul-de-sac, and to the sidewalk in front of Teresa-and-Tim’s house, all of us reconvening with a very nervous-looking Lindsay. She looked down at the amber potion, trepidation radiating from her freckled cheeks.

“Will this work?” she asked. Lee and I, along with Tim and Teresa, fiercely nodded yes.

And so Lindsay tipped the plastic cup to her mouth, took a pained sip, the visible part of her upper face imploding, her eyes probably stinging as if shot through with lightning, the soft skin of her forehead seizing up, and all of us looking on, barely breathing, hearts skittering like a pack of rats. And then slowly, slowly, she removed the cup from her mouth, her lips pursed in a kind of trying-not-to-puke expression, her eyes trained on the ground between us all, not willing yet to look up, probably wondering with some honest-to-goodness part of herself whether this might work, her deep-down hope not allowing her to disengage.

It was too late for any of us to feel bad for her. I could almost hear Lee and Teresa and Tim thinking the same thing: She’s going to snap. This is the moment she finally tells us all to screw off, that she doesn’t need us or the stupid Anti-Laughing Potion or our mysterious briefcase or pity birthday party invites, when she throws the gunky contents of the Slurpee cup straight into our terrible faces, Tim with his horsy teeth, Teresa’s eyes as big as hippos, Lee and I with our goofy grins of mischief.

But what happened next was even more disturbing than any of us could have imagined. Instead of bursting into projectile vomit, instead of raging towards us arms thrashing and knocking us over to scrape our knees on the neighborhood asphalt, Lindsay did the worst thing she could possibly do.

She took another gulp.

• • •

We were afraid for the few days she didn’t come out of her house that we had killed her, that Lindsay lay feverish in bed, teetering on the edge. We were afraid we had disappeared her, that maybe it was others like us that were behind all the missing kid faces cropping up each week on the telephone poles and milk cartons, the billboards heading out towards Henderson. But finally Lindsay came out of her house, her frizzy red hair pulled into pigtails and the same freckle-face we recognized from before. We spotted her from down the street and ambled our bikes over to her slowly, afraid to approach her, to see that maybe close-up her skin was as ruddy orange as the potion, simmering from the inside. But when we perched our bikes on the curb and stared at her in silence, our eyes searching for any sign of decay, she just said “Hey guys,” like nothing had ever happened, like we hadn’t almost sent her to her grave. “Wanna ride bikes?”

Who knows, after all, what Lindsay had experienced behind that closed door, what reason she might have given her mother for puking the better part of three days. She never mentioned any of it, never told us anything about what happened, and we never asked. And while Lindsay’s hyena cackle never went away, none of us ever again made fun of it. Her emergence from behind the door was a kind of release for us all. Lindsay could laugh as much as she pleased, and we could move forward knowing we didn’t kill her. But there was something more to that emergence, too. I believe that during those days she remained secluded inside her house, the rest of us came by slow gradations to realize that our potion scheme had been borne not from childish meanness, but a deep sense that Lindsay’s laugh represented a kind of vulnerability that we all felt, one we had stumbled upon for the first time in our lives that very summer. It was as if the sun had seared a small opening into our childhood oblivion to let in a new, fetid scent. It was the first indication that, despite the fairytales and happy-endings we had been taught to expect, “real life” was full of things we could not control, could not explain. People were vanishing without a trace. Kids. Maybe they were just like us, with bikes and rollerskates, selling Girl Scout cookies on Saturdays. And if they were just like us, what thin barricades kept us from vanishing too? It did not have to be said aloud for us to know that Lindsay’s laugh didn’t belong in the world we found ourselves in. That tinny, ineffective defense didn’t fit with the sense of peculiarity and danger we felt, a world beginning to scare the joy out of us. Maybe, by “fixing” Lindsay’s laugh, we could fix the vulnerability that had wormed its way in, and make sense of a world we did not yet understand. But by doing so, we had become a part of the thing we feared. We were the ones making the caves we disappeared into. We were the ones exploiting those women on our walls. We were becoming the source of our own laughter or reticence.

• • •

One weekend that summer, my mother and father took me and Lee to see the old mines in the desert outside the city. We drove for a long time on the two-lane highway, Vegas disappearing behind us over the stark horizon. Finally we pulled off on a dirt road, stopping the Cherokee in a clearing. Looking around, I saw only cacti and dirt, no mines, no trace of silver. I wondered, how in the world did the miners find silver all the way out in this desolation? How could they see what was underground? My dad insisted we get out, start rooting around, looking harder at the rock faces. The four of us shuffled through the dirt towards the big rocks, the sun blazing down on our foreheads.

Dad said there was a whole cave system right below our feet, dangerous to explore for all its unpredictable passageways and drop-offs. He said that one minute you could be walking, and the next minute you’re falling.

My eyes set on an opening in the rock face, an entrance to one of the old mines. I leaned my head into the dank interior, breathing in the cool, mineral smell of subterranean dirt. “Hello?” I bellowed, listening to my voice echo. Then Lee started up too, both of us saying “Hello? Hello?”, giddy at how our own voices seemed to greet us from somewhere else deep within the concealed, byzantine depths of the mine. We were face to face with the craggy entrance to the unknown. What had we been so afraid of?

“Hello? Hello?” We called again and again, our own voices traveling through the caves’ dark threads to pick up strange, new traces of calcite, gypsum rock, and dank vapor before winding their way back to us.


Kristin Kostick is a poetry and nonfiction writer currently working on a collection of essays called You Not You about the advantages of self deception.

She is also a medical anthropologist researching bioethics and health policy at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Learn more at


“Disappeared” © 2018 Kristin Kostick

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  1. So much of this speaks to my own childhood. Sometimes relating to Tim and Lee as I would dig in the dirt. Other times I see myself as Lindsay with all the vulnerable awkwardness of my childhood. Amazing writing and eye opening thoughts in the connections made to Erickson.

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