By Caroline Mawhinney '24
Breathing is so hard. Each time my worn-out shoe hits the ground, my lungs try to collapse in on themselves. I’m not yet sure if it's because I’m terrified for my life or so beyond happy to see my sister, Ella. Either way, I'm struggling to gain enough oxygen to keep running down this eerie hall, and I don’t have time to worry about something as mundane as breathing. I drag Ella left and right trying to find a way to escape the endless rooms that seem to appear. For some reason, I can’t remember my path here.
“Do you know how to get out of here?” I whisper to Ella in between gasps of air.
“I was blindfolded, so no.” she responds.
“Right, of course.” That seemed obvious now that I asked.
The dark walls and wooden floors make this house nightmarish. Shivers run down my spine as I look around. Fitting for the situation, I guess. Finally, I see the door. Large french doors with gold accents that signify freedom. I drag Ella to them and shove them open with my forearms as hard as I can. We run and run and don't look back. I found her, and finally we can go home.
You are probably wondering how I got into this situation of running with my sister out of a terrifying house. It’s a long story.
Ella was my best friend in the entire world. We did everything together. She filled my chest with sunshine, never failing to make me laugh. Her smile was contagious. The day she disappeared was the worst day of my entire life. When the police interviewed my parents, I sat in the corner, enough tears falling to fill a river. I tried my best to answer any questions they asked me, but I was never much help. My heart was shattered like glass. Every day I would ask the lead detective if he was any closer to finding Ella. Every day he would respond with an almost sympathetic “no”.
Finally, after several weeks, they called it a cold case. I could tell they gave up on finding my sister. They simply stopped looking. The water in my eyes turned to fire. I was no longer just sad; I was angry and determined. I had to find her.
I walk into the police station and head straight toward Detective Hansley’s office. I walk up to his mostly glass door unshakable. If the police aren’t going to find my sister, then the least he could do is give me the materials I need to find her on my own. I knock on the wooden frame that surrounds the door and slowly turn the metal door handle. As soon as I cross the threshold of the office, I realize I was wrong. I am incredibly shaky. My long brunette hair just slightly shields my brown eyes and rosy cheeks. Words seem to escape my mouth. I hate how quickly I lose the confidence to speak my mind. The little voice in my head constantly tells me that whatever I am saying is wrong or annoying. I shove it to the side.
“Hello, Detective Hansley,” I manage to say with some steadiness.
“Hello, Sophia! What are you doing here?” he asks with general confusion spread across his face.
“I want to find my sister,” I say flatly. He laughs. He genuinely laughs at my proposition. He tries to hide it, but fails. Now the little confidence I had is completely gone.
“I know this situation is hard for you, Sophia. Trust me. I really wish we would’ve found her, but you know just as well as I do that we did all we could.” He is trying to sound sympathetic.
He is wrong. I know they didn’t try their hardest because if they had, she would be standing next to me smiling. I would be looking slightly up at her hazel eyes and long blonde hair. Instead, I am here begging this lead detective to give me some information so I can try to piece together what happened to her.
“How old are you?” He asks in an almost accusatory tone.
“I am seventeen years old. Two years younger than Ella.”
“Right, and you think you are going to find her all by yourself?”
I panic. Because I don’t really have any idea how I am going to find her. I just know that there is nothing else I can do. I must try.
“Actually, I was hoping for your help.” I try to sound as enthusiastic as possible.
“You know I can’t help you. The only thing I can give you is the case file,” he says flatly.
“Anything that you could do to help would be greatly appreciated.” I smile.
“Come with me and I will get you your file.”
We walk in between the rows of desks full of people sipping coffee, deeply focused on their computer screens and files. I notice that every desk seems to have stacks of papers on it. This place is busy. Finally, we reach the file room. The files seem to be arranged in a complex system of dates and names that I don’t fully understand. Detective Hansley ignores the thousands of other files on the shelves and walks directly toward the back of the room. I notice for the first time that he is incredibly polished. His brown hair is perfectly combed, his outfit is perfectly pressed, and his face is expressionless. He pivots on his shiny boot and hands me the file. I say thank you and turn around to exit the room.
“Wait” he whispers. I raise my eyebrows in response.
“Henry Miller. We didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him. His address is 452 Hillfield Court in Amesbury. It is written down on a post-it note in the file.”
“Why are you telling me this?” I whisper cautiously.
“I am trying to help you.” he smiles.
“Thank you.” I offer a hesitant smile back.
It seems weird that he would offer me this information. I assume he feels bad for me but am aware that he is risking his career. I lock the peculiar feeling in a box in my brain.
I would like to point out that, at this moment, I was foolish and naive. I know that now.
The next morning, I wake up ready. The sun has just barely risen, filling my bedroom with a golden glow. Quickly, I hop out of my bed and walk across to my closet. Unlike Ella, I have never been much of a fashion fanatic. I don’t have an eye for complementary colors or shapes, so I avoid them altogether. The only thing I know is that I have no idea what today is going to be like, so I choose my outfit accordingly. That means something basic and comfortable. I slip on a soft cream sweater, a pair of loose-fitting jeans, and white sneakers. I head out of my bedroom and walk down the wooden stairs toward our door. My house doesn’t stand out against the ones surrounding it; in fact, most of the houses look alike. They are all midsize, white, with small front and backyards. I never really understood it. It makes no sense to me that all the houses on the street should look the same.
I decide to order an Uber because I have no idea if my parents need the car. They don’t really care where I go, which is surprising considering what happened to their other daughter. Since the incident, they have been inconsolable. They have no hope, unlike me. They are lost in their own world. I sit down on the small set of stairs that lead up to our front door and wait. I use this time to look over the case file some more. It seems like Henry Miller has a history; therefore, they thought he was a solid suspect. I don’t think it makes sense because nothing links him to Ella, but I decide to take a look anyway. After all, the police are not stupid.
Once I arrive at the house, I inspect the outside. It is impressive. The wooden slates are pale green, the windows have accents of white, and the shape is almost castle-like, but not nearly as large. The slight breeze causes me to break out in goosebumps despite the warm sunny day. Something in my brain unlocks, and I realize what I am getting myself into. I could be knocking on the door of my sister's kidnapper. My parents would not be pleased.
I walk up to the door holding my breath. I am not ready for this, but my feet move without the commands of my brain. I knock softly, still trying to figure out what I am going to say. It is a bit weird for a teenage girl to just knock on a stranger's door, and I certainly don’t want to tell him the real reason I am here. After waiting a few seconds, I knock a bit harder. He doesn’t answer, so I wiggle the doorknob. It's open. I’m almost positive that this is illegal, and I know for sure that it is stupid. Yet again, I continue. I walk in. I have never been this brave in my entire life. What am I doing?
The inside of the house is dark and vast. I take deliberate steps to ensure that I don’t make the old wood creak beneath my feet. I begin to explore. The house is bizarre. It seems almost empty and certainly doesn’t look like someone lives here. The house is laid out like most with a living room and kitchen on the bottom floor. The upstairs seems like one long hallway with doors along both sides. I open them slowly as I go, taking in as much information as possible and as quickly as I can. There are a couple of bedrooms, a small office, and a laundry room. Finally, I reach what looks to be the master bedroom. It's a large gray room with a low- sitting bed in the middle, against the back wall. Windows take up the entire left wall, and access to the closet appears to be through another door on the right. As I glance around the room, a small desk on the wall immediately to my left catches my attention. It’s messy and stacked with millions of unorganized papers. Under the mountain of chaos, I spot a computer. From every detective show I have ever watched, I understand that there are always secrets within people’s personal devices.
I take out the silver Apple computer carefully to ensure that I don’t disrupt the entire pile. I can feel my fingers tremble as I open it. The screen flickers on, and I am met with an unfortunate message. A password is needed. Luckily, it seems that Henry Miller didn’t care much for privacy or was very forgetful, so the password is written on a sticker on the bottom of the computer. I open the computer and go to messages. I scroll through the different names looking for something to catch my attention. I am almost ready to exit the app when I see a familiar name. James Hansley. I open the message, and my entire body goes numb. The gears in my brain turn despite my body's inability to function.
“If you tell anyone about the girl, I will kill you.”
It was detective Hansley. He has Ella. Emotions surge through me so quickly that I can’t even process how I feel. I can hear my heartbeat ringing in my ears like it's trying to remind me that I am alive and this is real.
Now you see why I was so dumb for not trusting myself before.
I am angry and stupid, but I know that taking down a lead detective is very difficult and that he is not an enemy you want to have. I quickly realize that the only way I can prove that he is guilty is with Ella. A plan forms, a loose half plan, but enough to give me the energy to bypass the emotions. Adrenaline is all I feel.
Here is my sort-of plan. First, I need to find the address for Detective Hansley’s house. I recall that my parents sent flowers to him, so his address should be somewhere in my home. The idea that they were grateful to him makes me physically ill, but I don't dwell on it. Next, I need to find Ella. This one is simple in theory but difficult in execution. Finally, I need to prove that Detective Hansley is guilty.
When I searched through my house, I found the address quite easily. I know I can’t just barge into his home, but I also know that he works during the day, and no one will be home (except for Ella). It is late in the day now, so I can’t go to his house without risking his presence. I never quite realized how close his house was to ours. Ella was so close. Still, the thought of his betrayal pains me, or maybe it's the fact that I trusted him despite my gut feeling. Never again. I promise myself that I will never doubt myself so much again.
I did not sleep. The whole night I was imagining the different ways this scenario could play out. Mostly the horrible ones but there were a few with happy endings. I get up quickly and change into an outfit that is a replica of the one I wore yesterday. It's about nine in the morning, and I hope that Detective Hansley is not home. I walk down the streets of my neighborhood with houses that look the same. I try to find the one that matches the address scribbled on the piece of paper in my hand. I feel weirdly calm. I am nervous, of course, and full of adrenaline, but I am not panicking. Finally, I walk up to the house. It is very large and contrasts with the others around it. It’s a pretty french house but the bold white makes it look harsh. This house seems petrifying, or maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. Somehow the air feels colder.
I walk up to the front door, and I don’t have as much luck as last time. The front door is locked. I take out a small bobby pin that I brought with me and try to pick the lock. I can hear the faint noise of metal against metal. Click. The door swings open. As I cross into the house, a sharp alarm pierces my ears. I realize that the police are likely on their way. I start running. I swing open every door and search frantically for Ella. I yell her name softly to draw the least attention to the house, ignoring the fact that the alarm is blaring. My mind and body are on autopilot. Finally, I discover a door that leads to an attic. I run up as fast as my legs will move.
“Ella!” I hit her so hard that she almost fell.
“You found me.”
“You're here. You're alive. Are you okay?” I quickly remember our situation.
“What are you doing here? It isn’t safe.” she panics.
“I don’t have time to explain everything, but let’s go. We need to get home.”
I grab Ella’s hand and run. Breathing is so hard. Each time my worn-out shoe hits the ground, my lungs try to collapse in on themselves. I’m not yet sure if it's because I’m terrified for my life or so beyond happy to see my sister, Ella. Either way, I'm struggling to gain enough oxygen to keep running down this eerie hall, and I don’t have time to worry about something as routine as breathing. I drag Ella left and right trying to find a way to escape the endless rooms that seem to appear. For some reason, I can’t remember the path I followed to get here.
“Do you know how to get out of here?” I whisper to Ella in between gasps of air.
“I was blindfolded, so no.” she responds.
“Right, of course.” That seemed obvious once I had asked.
The dark walls and wooden floors make this house nightmarish. Shivers rush up my spine as I look around. Fitting for the situation, I guess. Finally, I see the door. Large french doors with gold accents that signify freedom. I drag Ella to them and shove them open with my forearms as hard as I can. We run and run and don't look back. I finally found Ella, and we can go home.