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NOTHING IS EVER MISSING IN THE TOWN OF MISSING GIRLS by Meghan Phillips

There is a town where all the missing girls end up. They wander in from the surrounding woods, dark-eyed and dirty, holding one bloody tennis shoe like a prayer. They thump in the trunks of parked cars, duct taped wrists sticky and raw. They appear in grocery store aisles, storm cellars. It always takes time to convince them they’ve been found.

There is a town where no one can sleep. A terrible smell seeps into the homes at night, finds sleepers in their bed. No one cannot find the source.

There is a town with a lake. Things wash up on its shore. Fish skeletons and bundles of vegetation. Car tires. Tennis shoes. Bottle upon bottles, green and brown and clear as a cry. Once, an antique pearl necklace. Once, a cloth bag stuffed with severed human hands.

There’s a town where every girl is given a whistle, useless as a bell on a house cat’s collar. By the time someone hears the shrieking, it is already too late.

There is a town surrounded by fields of wheat. A town surrounded by fields of corn. A town with a stone altar at its center where people leave apples and pebbles and little corn husk dolls, the names of the chosen tucked under their skirts.

Sometimes other missing things show up in the town of missing girls. Usually just socks without mates or small toys or the backs of earrings. Sometimes keys or rings. Dogs and cats will wander down the main street, hackles raised. The missing girls sooth them, feed them, take them in. The missing know how to care for their own. 

There’s a town where everyone is missing a hand. 

There is a town that holds the gates to Hell. Only the first gate is visible in daylight. The other six appear in darkness. The people of the town don’t like the Hell gates or the hell-seekers that tramp through their gardens or the satanic cults that burn rings in their fields performing dark masses. They have taken down the daylight gate, and a group of volunteers has promised to seek the other six and destroy them. 

At night by the lake in the town with a lake, beautiful girls line the road that hugs its shore. They wait in their taffeta skirts and grandmother’s pearls for a ride. Sit with hands in laps and look out the window at the moon bobbing on the water, a perfect golden apple, and when the driver stops to let them out, there’s nothing but the damp outline of a skirt, the sweet-rot of dried apple blossom.

There is a town underwater. There’s a town that’s been burning for sixty years. 

There is a town where the radio only plays one song no matter the frequency. One where televisions only play one film. There’s one where all broadcasts stop in the night, and the awake listen for messages in the static, watch for signs in the electric snow. 

In the town of missing girls, the streets are wide and lush with trees. Sidewalks are even and lit by streetlamps that never burn out. Missing girls walk home alone at night. They don’t look behind them or start at the crunch of leaves under their shoes. They don’t curl their hands around keys spiked through fingers or pucker lips around plastic whistles. They know no one will follow. They are already missing. They are already home. 

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