Remains

We hear on the radio that a body has been found. A young woman lies facedown in a drainage ditch near Shimpling Park. Instantly, a cold tightness in the stomach. Is that her?

We hear on the radio that a body has been found. A young woman lies facedown in a drainage ditch near Shimpling Park. Instantly, a cold tightness in the stomach. Is that her?

And so we listen, as though the radio’s thin crackle were the oracular voice of the dead.

Those of us who live nearby drive to the muddy field and stare at the horrible line of police tape. Together we stand in the cold and wait. The fathers of the missing pace the field. Some call out names, the faint ghost-echoes of unfamiliar faces. Their voices spiral up into the dark.

We imagine the things the radio leaves out. We imagine her as pale Ophelia, tangled up in pondweed, goldfish darting in and out of her mouth. In terrible moments we imagine her bloated like a pig. We imagine that much-loved face swollen beyond recognition, save for some terrible clue. A tattoo. A familiar earring. Sooner or later word gets out: It isn’t her. In the field the fathers press their ruined shoes harder into the mud. The mothers stand like husks of people, old grief on their faces. The friends and the sisters and the step-brothers and the ex-boyfriends — whoever else came — we look where we need to, so that we do not see each other’s faces.

Eventually we drift back to the cars and the long drive. In other, farther places, we reach over and turn the radio off.


My great-grandmother had a friend who was a sleepwalker. As girls, they took a trip to the grey-blue sea. They rented a house on the hill. Window boxes trailed red geraniums down the sunlit walls.

They first saw the man at twilight. They were walking up from the village; the air smelled of ocean and storm-tossed weeds.

He tipped his hat to them as they passed the graveyard. That was the first time my great-grandmother noticed him. The man was sitting on the bench by the greening stones in the graveyard wall. Perhaps he had been there awhile.

The young women giggled and walked faster. The friend looked back. That was all my great-grandmother saw pass between them.

Ten days later her friend was dying, stretched out shrunken and bloodless on a thin mattress. The doctors did what they could for her, but medicine could not do much in those days. When they lifted her body, my great-grandmother said, it was as light as a dead butterfly on the tip of a pin.

They buried her in one of those beautiful old tombs with carvings of knights on the door. Seven days later they had to open it again. Someone had seen her stumbling across the moors with blood on her face.

What they did in there, her family will never say. One cannot speak ill of the dead, my great-grandmother said. She shook her head over her crochet, her face grey and empty like a dandelion after the wind comes. Nor the undead neither.


Sometimes newspapers run blurred photos of women in foreign countries, women stepping off cruise ships or caught in fuzzy profile on a busy street. Their barely seen features are dwarfed by sunglasses; they clutch fashionable hats against the wind. We peer at the photos as though we can make these half-imagined figures resolve into the girl we remember. Could it be?

We show these photos to acquaintances, to friends of the family, passing them casually over dinner tables. We want their dispassionate eyes to see for us. We hope one day someone will look up in amazement and say, it’s her. Definitely her.

Photographs are the worst. Doubts seep through us: Were her wrists that narrow? Was her chin that round? Is the woman in the photograph a couple inches too tall?

If only we’d spent more time studying her angles when she lived among us, committing to memory every possible pose. Then we would not lie awake at night, fearing we have forgotten what she really looked like.


Everyone knows someone. Often we don’t hear these stories until it affects us directly, and then people come forward, catching us by the arm in hallways and streets. My cousin, they say. My sister’s friend. Sometimes they give us a searching look, as though they are hoping we can explain it to them.

There was a girl at my school who fell in love with a vampire. She knew what he was from the start, but she found him too beautiful. Like a statue, she told her friends. Like a Greek god.

Her friends hoped she was joking. They’d seen him, some of them, lurking at the edge of parking lots, a wolf with eyes like fossils. They could not imagine themselves kissing that face, touching skin white and strange as bone, tongue flicking past teeth like broken glass.

When she disappeared, the adults blamed her friends. They should have said something, told someone. At the memorial service, the girls stared at the floor with empty eyes.


Girls aren’t the only ones who disappear. I heard of a middle-aged woman, someone’s mother, who walked into the night with one of them and was never seen again. And then there was that boy in Sweden, so young you’d never think it. We watched his mother on television, weeping and wailing into the camera, begging for her child’s return. We didn’t know the language she was speaking, but we understood every word.

The hardest part is not knowing. Why? Was there a reason? Something that could have been avoided or prevented or fixed? Did some unseen maggot turn in their brain, driving them to an act of insanity? Did they really understand what they were doing?

Was it our fault? Theirs?

In the days that follow, those of us who remain search for answers. We don’t find any.

Most of them do not even leave a note.


The last time I saw my sister was at the window of her bedroom, overlooking the lawn.

I’d got up to get a drink of water. Something had disturbed me: a noise, a dream. I walked to the bathroom in a fog of sleep and saw the wind had pushed her door ajar. A low murmur of voices came from inside.

To this day I wonder if I knew. Something made me open the door.

I saw her in her nightdress, framed by the window. He was a black shadow, eyes like the collapsed pits of stars.

She turned. Saw me. Her face went taut with fear.

She raised a finger to her lips. Shhh.

Here is the part I do not understand. I could have shouted, raised the house. I could have asked her to stay.

I looked at her and saw she wanted to go.

My unwilling feet made their way back to my room. I lay down in my bed of guilt and fear and thought, tomorrow it will all be okay. It will all turn out okay.

I have never thought that since.


We all have stories we never share. Lying awake, I listen to the thin voice of the radio and try to take comfort that somewhere, others are doing the same.

Some nights I catch myself thinking that there is one place I could really find answers. I too could go out into the night.

But I do not think they would be interested in me anymore. It is life they hunger for, hot and bright-flowing. Not this suspended animation.

We hear on the radio that a body has been found. Some of the unliving rise, put on thick woolen gloves, get ready for the drive. In other, farther places, we lie hoping for an ending that never comes.


Siobhan Carroll‘s short fiction has appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Fantasy Magazine (under the byline “Von Carr”). She made the CW ’09 class watch the first Twilight movie as part of her research for this story. They have yet to forgive her.

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