Is this Loss?

Missing persons Willow Creek
Missing persons hotline Willow Creek
Dr. Jeong-Espinosa news
News missing persons
Missing persons search party organization
Missing spouse help

No matter how she permuted it, each of Jo’s search terms took her back to the same horrifically dry government website, http://www.wcpd.sim/missing-persons, on it a curated set of names and pictures, captioned with descriptions of where they were last seen and what they were wearing. Dry and informative. Not even a reassurance that the WCPD was taking this very seriously and doing everything they can to make sure these people get home safe. Just pure information asking for more, partitioned by a generous amount of negative space, overseen by an authoritative-blue WCPD banner, all framing the reason for Jo’s dread, a professional portrait of Dr. Jeong-Espinosa, missing Spring 17, black hair, brown eyes, muscular build, last seen wearing an orange T-shirt, sneakers, and khaki pants; last spotted at Bargain Bend, Willow Creek; plays basketball and fishes. If seen, call immediately because lately the hospital’s been fucked.

The first traces of sunlight had begun to wash over the J.-E.’s well-ventilated study. Beyond the claustrophilic glow of her screen, Jo could now see the aftermath of her weeklong binge. The police report. The newspaper clippings. The last reminder he scrawled. The last glass he sipped from. The last papers he read. The medical degree above her claimed the office like a family crest, a continual reminder of Jo’s only motivation since she’d been recast as the hero of a detective story.

On the plus side, the blue’s really working for her

She’d been glued to her latest Jumping Jasper! post about Charlie’s disappearance in case it got moving and popular enough to encircle the globe and reach the people who were physically closest to her, but might not be sign-readers themselves, and who prefer their content in electronic form. Jo herself had walked past the same Missing Cat sign every time she went to the gym and never looked for that damn cat. But Charlie kind of stands out being, y’know, huge and everything. She did also cover Willow Creek in Charlie’s image, just for good measure. Some jackass at Magnolia Park fixed it with demon eyes and a mustache. Even so, the blog post was worth a shot:

Dearest readers,

It is with great sadness that I inform you that there is still no information regarding my husband’s disappearance.

Many of you already know my husband Charlie. He may have nursed you back to health with a smile at his job as Chief of Staff, or given you a down-to-earth smile as you pass by the fishing pond. If you’ve been reading “Jumping Jasper!” for a while, you’ll know that he was a great husband and father who truly cherished his family. Jasper misses his father dearly and I know I do too.

The day before he went missing, Charlie took me on a wonderful hike for Love Day, where he surprised me with a picnic lunch. We spent that night gazing at the stars. It pains me to think that may be the last time I gaze into his eyes. He has black hair, kind and deep brown eyes, and a smile that melts your heart. He was last seen wearing an orange shirt with a power line and khaki pants.

If you have any information about Charlie, please let us know as soon as possible. Jasper and I are deeply grateful for your support in this trying time. Whether it’s a groundbreaking clue or simply a kind thought, we appreciate any positive vibes you can send from your family to ours.

This was getting a lot of traffic, most likely because Jo’s friends posted a direct link on the local news. The comment section, a collection of thoughts and prayers from Willow Creek’s most active well-wishers, was an order of magnitude larger than that of her second-most popular post. She’d hit mainstream. She hit it with a post only the most empathically detached trolls would dare target, but it’d be wrong to enjoy it.

“Mom?”

Jo paused to transition her dry eyes away from the screen. Her life may lay scattered at her feet, quite literally, but her job wasn’t to find Charlie. That was a side gig. Her job was to be a mom. Moms know kids can smell fear. She made her best attempt to divert blood away from her eyes, to hide that they’d been battered with glowing pixels for 22 straight hours, but her efforts didn’t amount to much physiologically. “Yes, sweetie?”

“I’m hungry,” Jasper moaned, picking gunk out of his eye with his pinky finger. His pajamas were black. He’d entered the black phase at the age of six.

Jo sprang up—she realized moving quickly would both prevent Jasper from staring at her face for prolonged amounts of time and give the impression of having energy. Like gosh, look at me moving around all chipper like I’ve been asleep all night. “There are empanadas in the fridge.”

“I just had empanadas for dinner. And lunch. And last breakfast.”

It was at times like this Jo had to remember what her favorite bloggers would do. “Alright hun, let me make you something.”

High on adrenaline, Jo scampered to the kitchen. She reached for a box of sugar cereal when her mind started reciting, from old research, every ingredient that appeared at least once over several brands of sugar cereal. Sugar. High fructose corn syrup. Corn flour. Hydrogenated palm oil, harvested unsustainably. Then a bunch of things with names like calcium carbonate and trisodium phosphate and butylated hydroxyanisole and several primary colors followed by a single-digit number. It was conceivable that not every piece of cereal contained every color, but that didn’t matter.

“Mom?”

Jo realized she’d been short-circuiting pretty hard in front of the cereal drawer. “Everything’s fine, sweetie. Mommy’s just making you some eggs.”

Jasper hadn’t asked whether everything was fine, but a good life tip to let everyone know you’re fine is to yell EVERYTHING’S FINE at regular intervals. Also, eggs contain things with scary names like protoporphyrin, brominated flame retardants, and conjugated linoleic acid isomers.

“Alright, mom.” He paused. “Wait. Why isn’t Dad making them? When’s Dad coming back?”

So this was it—the talk she’d been dreading. If anything, she was grateful that her back was to Jasper when he asked. A single tear fell down her face, moisturizing her inflamed eyes and salting her son’s breakfast.

“Mom? Hey, Mom?”

She inverted the pan’s contents onto the plate. Taking a serving of eggs in each hand, she walked slowly over to Jasper and set the plate down in front of him.

“Jasper. Your father’s been gone for a very long time.”

“I know. But don’t worry, Mom, he always comes back.” He used his fingers to help the scrambled egg bits onto his fork. “I made a picture you can look at if you miss him.”

“Thank you for the picture, hon.” Jo wanted to say it had been over a week, and even if he came back, she wouldn’t know what to say to him. What’s left to say to a man who sneaks to do fuck-knows-what in the middle of the night, sending his former family into a tragedy spiral out of nowhere? No. If he were found, it would be by the police. Them, or a 40-year-old cyclist couple who loves hiking and catching murderers.

“Mom, guess what kind of juice I want.”

“The only juice we have is orange juice.”

“No mom, guess.”

“I don’t have to guess. We only have orange juice.”

“No, mom,” Jasper said, gesticulating with the cup, “I want bone-hurting juice.” He pretended to take a sip. “Ow oof owie ouch my bones. Do you get it?”

Not the commonly accepted hyphenation pattern, but one this author feels more comfortable using. Like, you could mis-parse it as the bone hurting the juice. Disambiguation. You see?

She didn’t. “Jasper, I was being serious earlier. Your father may not be coming back. We’re—” Jo felt the air being knocked out of her as she learned she could actually feel worse. Maybe, before, she’d understood intellectually that her husband was missing. Now it was more of a hollowness deep in her gut, a shock of finality. “we’re never going to see him again.” As she said those words, she realized those feelings she had before, of being a bottomless pit or empty husk—those feelings were wrong. A bottomless pit would feel nothing except the woosh of wretched truth as it passes through. In quick succession, she remembered she could accept, could grieve and fear. But not in front of the kid. She focused her energy on following the brown lines on the kitchen tiles, hoping to run herself dry before the conversation ended.

“Mom, guess what I’m doing.” Jasper repeatedly smashed his pointer finger on the table.

“I don’t know.” Not a lot of the brown lines connected across tiles. Man, this was hard.

“Mom. I’m pressing ‘F’ to pay respects.”

“That’s nice,” she mumbled, tracing over the same tile for the fifth time. “Uh. What?”

“I’m pressing ‘F.’ Mom, he’s not really gone. We just have to wait. Bye!”

Maybe it was better to leave him like this. Jo watched her son turn into a black speck vanishing into the spreading daylight before dropping from her stool and curling up into a fetal position.


“Pierce! Here come dat boi!”

“O shit waddup!” In the library’s southeast corner, an older woman with reading glasses turned away from Plumbbook to grimace at Pierce for his response. Stupid kids, not being how kids are supposed to be.

“Ready?” asked Jasper.

“Yeah!” yelled Pierce. “Meme Appreciation Club handshake!”

Please trust me when I say I hated writing this just as much as you’re going to hate reading it

“Wow, the memes
Wow, wow, such memes
Wow, the memes
Wow, wow, such memes
!

“Cupcake dog and grumpy cat
Ain’t no-one got time for that!
Took an arrow to the knee
Spoopy doot, bone apple tea!

Jesus, Dolly, next time choose a worse medium to represent two things happening simultaneously

“Thanos, Thor and Batman
Plumbbook, Reddit, 4chan
Hotdog legs, my body’s ready
Copypasta, Mom’s spaghetti!

“Wow, the memes
Wow, wow, such memes
Wow, the memes
Wow, wow, such memes!

“Numa, numa, yayyyyy!”

Jasi waved his hands in the air. “Meme Appreciation Club, gather!”

Five children did as he asked. Pierce lagged behind blond duo Marc and Andre, who were ignoring Dexter, the club’s self-appointed edgelord. Lori was spacing out behind them. She thought she saw a cool bird or something of that nature.

Clearly any inclusion of memes in a work is going to date it, but we have enough pop culture references to make this a period piece already, so what the hell ever

“Ok everyone, club is o-fficially starting,” Jasper said. “We gotta catch up on pop culture. Does everyone remember their decade?” Unenthused nodding. Unenthused because clearly Jasper should know that they did, not that the topic wasn’t interesting. Rather, poring over pop cultural context was of utmost importance to the amateur meme historians. “And then let’s go look at memes.”

“The meme club discussing memes?” Dexter drew out. “I am totally surprised Pikachu.”

“Ok, sure. Who wants to go first?”

“Oh, me, me,” said Andre, pointing to Marc. “We kind of did ours together.”

Pierce held up a finger. To clarify, this was the ‘hold up’ finger, not the ‘shut it, douche’ finger. Come to think of it, the ring finger is the only one that, when held up, has no special meaning. “Wait. What decade did you guys have again?”

“’70s,” Marc clarified. He turned to Andre. Andre was known to speak for both of them, although he certainly didn’t talk enough for two people. That was Dexter. So, the total number of words spoken per gathering was still at about six times the national average for meme clubs.

“Aughts. So we stayed up all night and watched the first six Star Wars.”

This was met with impressed gasps and a couple whispered ‘wow’s. “Star Wars is super important! There’s so many memes,” Jasper said with slightly jealous awe.

“Yeah! There’s so many, we couldn’t do them all. So we took some notes. Here.” Andre took out of his inventory a collection of crayon drawings featuring timeless scenes like Han Solo knowing that Leia loved him and Anakin killing not just the men, but the women and children too. They also did a fair amount of light saber practice. Andre neglected to mention it so that in case Earth was ever caught in the crosshairs of intergalactic mutiny, he and Marc would be the ones to hack through the bad guys and save everyone with the Force and it would be really cool.

“Actually,” Marc felt he had to clarify, “The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi are ’80s. But it was worth it. Sorry, Pierce.”

“You’re fine. I just ended up watching an aerobics video on loop.” Pierce was not being a very good advocate for the ’80s. “I didn’t really do anything else. Jasper, you’re ’90s, you should go next.”

“But Lori is everything before 1970,” Jasper said, gesturing towards her. She was still deep in la-la land. “Lori? Lori?”

Lori get your shit together

What?” Lori asked. “Oh, it’s my turn?” The rest of the group nodded. “I found some funny paintings by a guy named,” she squinted at her notes, “Joseph Decrux.”

“Cool story, bro,” said Dexter. Andre elbowed him. Counting the handshake, we’re really running the gamut of body part gestures today.

“Hey, that was mean,” she continued. “But let’s see if you make fun of me after this.” Lori shoved in Dexter’s face a binder full of printed out fake history tweets between the founding fathers, complete with full written explanations of the jokes and citations to the Hamilton song she learned the context from. “And I know all the words to ‘My Shot.'”

“Lori, can I get a copy of that? I need it for History,” Andre said.

“Sure. You all totally need to watch Hamilton. It’s really good.”

“Thanks, Lori,” said Jasper. “I guess it’s my turn now. I found all these ’90s toy commercials. They’re hilarious. They have all these hilarious songs.”

“Can you sing them?”

“Right now? Sock’em Boppers, Sock—“

“—No.” Pierce had Jasper in a headlock and was covering his mouth. Though, ironically, he would have appreciated a pair of Sock’em Boppers at the moment.

“Fine. Jeez, Pierce.” Jasper walked backwards in a semicircle to worm his way out from his friend’s arm. “I guess I’m done. Alright, Dexter. Take it away.”

“My mom got me a bunch of new Fortnite skins! Sick!” Dexter stopped mid-floss and hung his head. “But I still don’t know what ‘cuck’ means.”

“Can’t you just look it up?” asked Lori.

“I did, but I still don’t get it.” He produced a printout of the top three Urban Dictionary definitions, which the meme club swarmed around, ready to have fun with learning. Jasper noticed the librarian menacing in their direction.

“Wrap it up, wrap it up,” Jasper yelled while clapping his hands. The hubbub subsided before this particular search for knowledge could come to a resolution. “Alright! Good job, everyone! Let’s get on the computers. Yell if you see anything good.”


Late Monday morning, Jo took advantage of Jasper’s absence to de-disaster the study. Hiding the evidence. Cleaning bored her mind so thoroughly, and today, her thoughts kept coming back to the future of Jumping Jasper!. No matter what happened, she’d keep her last name because it fits with her branding. The ‘J’ thing. Plus also the next post was critical. It seemed like cereal facts and essential oils weren’t going to cut it for her new readership; she needed to go all out, but she was out of ideas. She needed to pull out all the stops, but something was stopping her. She needed to bet the farm, but she didn’t have a farm.

Background poster reminds me of the immortal words uttered by my little sister at the optometrist’s. “I can’t see the big E.” She was Jasper’s age and all her friends wore glasses.

As she compulsively shelved the last stray book in the house, Jo watched her friend Moira enter the study and start knocking on the door. Jo rolled her eyes and invited her friend in.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Jo asked, fluffing up the pillows.

“Nah. I just wanted to see how you were holding up.” She brushed off the living room chair and sat down.

“It’s been a week and no sign of him.”

“No, Jo,” Moira said, leaning forward, “I was asking about you. Forget about Charlie for a moment and tell me how you’re doing.”

“Everything’s fine.”

No, of course it wasn’t. Moira decided to change tactics, get at it indirectly. “The search is taking a while,” she offered.

“I know!” Jo threw up her hands. “It makes no sense. How many lots in Willow Creek do the police have to check?”

“Twenty.”

“So it makes no sense that they haven’t found him by now.”

“Aren’t his parents in Newcrest? Did they check Newcrest?”

“You know what, Moira? You know what?” Moira nodded; go ahead. “I’m beginning to suspect he’s not in either world. I’m beginning to suspect we can’t find him because he’s not in the world at all.”

“What?”

“I mean, think about it,” Jo said. “You see this?” She pointed at the kitchen window. “This rocket in the backyard?”

“Yeah, but if he were lost in space, wouldn’t his rocket be missing?”

“That’s not it. Seriously. The aliens know him, his dad is an astronaut, the aliens know his dad. Think about it. It’s them. They abducted him and they’re not giving him back.”

“Interesting.”

“So that would certainly explain why no one is able to find him.” Jo started tearing up. “It kills me that he’s out there alone. He’s probably terrified.”

“There, there.” Moira finally had an answer to her question. “Tell me about it.”

It took Jo a solid four hours of friendship to collect herself and get to the gym. Still, all she could think about was Charlie alone on Sixam. How hard he must be fighting to get back to the family he missed so dearly. Their reunion would be moving; when he finally appeared at the door, the music would swell as Jo jumped into his arms with Jasper running after her, and it would all come to an end when he smiled at how much his little boy had grown.

And yet Jo realized the ending wasn’t going to come soon. She had no option but to leave him to fend for himself; she couldn’t so much as replace a silicone gasket on that steampunk monstrosity in the backyard. All for an avoidable problem. Why him? What did the heartless bastards need him for, anyway? She was going at the punching bag with such fury, the other gym patrons cast hesitant glances at each other as they discovered they had things to do elsewhere.

Jo caught herself in the mirror. This wasn’t who she was. Josephine J.-E. was a sweet woman, nurturing and caring and maternal. The embodiment of the white picket fence. And this woman knocking the punching bag off its hinges, that had to be someone else. She walked toward her reflection. Deep breaths. Remember the blue, that was really working for her. There; that was Jo, that was Jo’s calm, cool, collected smile, if not slightly highlighted by a green glow on the left side. It clued her in to how blind to her surroundings she’d been.

Still gotta attempt a smile. She’s in public.

Jo forcefully shut her eyes, pretending that the blue man and his green glow weren’t there. But she couldn’t shut out his horrid metallic-sounding voice. Laughing. Like he didn’t know what his species does to our species. Jo started flinching with each otherworldly chuckle; even though the conversation was primarily office clichés, she knew they were laughing at Charlie, helpless and afraid. She ran out of the gym, still holding her eyes shut, nearly making Gen the next victim of pedestrian road rage. She kept running and didn’t stop until she was home. (Side note: to clarify, she did open her eyes once she put a few yards between herself and the gym.)

Jasper had come home from school and was now running around outside with the excited fervor of a kid who has the opposite hobbies. “Mom!” he greeted her. “Dexter and I are playing MySims Racing and I won!” He dropped to the ground to do sit-ups.

Jo caught her breath. “It’s nice that you have friends over, but finish your homework, okay?”

“Okay.” He ran back inside. Not only did he have a rematch to attend to, his schedule called for cartoon bingeing in two hours and he was way behind.

Jo stormed into the living room, reminded Dexter to be home by seven and shut herself in the study. She had her something big: the future of her friends, her family, her readers and her world. Real stuff. She had influence, so she could enact change.

If Jumping Jasper! was notable for two things, the first was the fervor with which Jo researched every topic, and the second was her refusal to pare it down. Jo was proud of both: rather than telling people what to believe, she simply presented the evidence and asked them to think for themselves. Hence, this meant objectively representing every possible viewpoint. The post about eggs, for example, ping-ponged from cholesterol content to factory farming, etc. If someone definitively proved some of her information was wrong, she’d take it down. But is anyone capable of truly proving anything wrong? Experts have been wrong, studies have been wrong, maybe Jo herself is wrong once in a while. And by her quality standards, she couldn’t trust anything unless she did it herself. Tonight’s post would look no different. Her audience would be asked to consider the facts for themselves, like always. As usual. They didn’t have to know her agenda.

Jasper erupted into laughter as his avatar ran his friend’s avatar off the tracks. The sound of children playing carried her to a simpler time, her girlhood, hazy childhood memories framed in a lavender halo, the taste of a strawberry milkshake polished in her mind like a river-washed stone, so smooth she could feel it going down her throat even now, even if she couldn’t express or even remember what made it so good. But Jasper could; he could still find this ephemeral joy in the face of tragedy. She’d make sure it stayed that way. If anyone thought Jo had limits for what she’d do to protect her son, they’d be damn wrong.

Stupid aliens, she thought, writing furiously.

They need to go back to where they came from.

She hit Publish.


Bonus images:

Gummy guppy. So great
Jasi making a doge meme at a different club gathering.
Haha, Wyatt, a bunch of people came up with your idea already, too bad

3 thoughts on “Is this Loss?

      1. I am in total denial about it.

        Like, I’m imagining him sitting in an ice cream parlor somewhere, looking up something fascinating on his iphone while he, very slowly, eats a two-scoop chocolate ice cream cone. He’s just lost track of the time, that’s all. He’s looking up memes.

        Liked by 1 person

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