We started playing the Stana Yurich Snatching just after school ended. Jared Baumgartner came up with the name, but I told him about Stana. I heard about her on the way to his house. My mom was listening to the radio in the car. I wasn't paying it much attention; it was just a hum, like when you ride your bike under the power lines, until she put her hand up to her mouth and said "Oh God," and turned it up.
"What's going on?" I said. She shook her head and said "Poor thing," like she hadn't heard me. The voice on the radio had that stuffed-up sound people get when they've been crying.
"—I called and called for her, but she didn't come down."
I stuck my head between the front seats and said "Who?" I could see her lips moving. It always embarrassed me when she prayed. "Who?" I said.
"I went up the stairs, and—oh God! I was going to yell at her. I was going to yell at her!"
"Take your time Mrs. Yurich. We know how difficult this must be for you. What did you find when you went upstairs?"
"She was gone. My Stana was gone."
My mom reached for the dial and clicked off the radio. She asked me if I knew the missing girl. I said no.
"You wouldn't, I guess. She goes to Woodford."
There were two elementary schools in our town, Woodford and Lincoln. I went to Lincoln. The only time I ever saw anyone from Woodford was at soccer practice, since there were kids from both schools on my team. All boys, though.
When we pulled into Jared's driveway he was waiting on the porch. He tried to run up to meet us and my mom had to shoo him out of the way so she didn't run him over.
I told Jared the news, how a girl named Stana Yurich had disappeared during the night and how nobody knew where she was, not even her mom and dad. I pressed my toe into a strip of tar on the driveway and said "The cops will find her." He told me that one of his cousins went missing once, but it turned out she had run away to go live with her boyfriend and have a baby. I asked if that meant the baby was his cousin too, and he shrugged and said "I'm not sure. We never really see her anyway." Jared got his bow and arrows, the kind with suction cups for tips. He gave me his sling shot. It had a broken wrist strap, but he said "It still works, see?" and shot an acorn up onto the roof. It bounced down the shingles and got stuck in the gutter. We played detectives. Our case was the Stana Yurich Snatching, and we were the only ones who could solve it. We knew that detectives didn't use bows and arrows and slingshots, but in the game they were shotguns and tazers.
Everything was a clue: the suspicious looking stick we dusted for prints, the gum wrapper wadded with half-chewed gum we checked for the kidnapper's germs. We found two empty pop cans near the gum and figured out that it was kidnappers, not kidnapper. I wrote every clue in a notebook that Jared's mom let us use. Jared said "We should put the clues in a safe and lock it up so the bad guys can't steal them," but I said "No, we need to look at them for a while until it all comes together."
Some nights we heard the racing heartbeat of helicopter blades circling the forest preserve outside our neighborhood. Once we even saw policemen lined up in a row, walking slowly though a field with German shepherds and long poles. Jared and I watched from the road, straddling our bikes. My mom didn't let me ride my bike without a grown up anymore, but Jared's mom still did. Those times were real, not part of our game.
The kidnappers turned out to be the mob, at least the first time we played. They held Stana for ransom—a million dollars—and her mom and dad had to sell their car and all their stuff to come up with the money. After that, they were gang bangers who needed her to squeeze into a warehouse full of drugs because she was the only one small enough to fit. Another time they were from China, and a few times they were aliens. The aliens sucked her up with a big green tractor beam through a hole they made in the ceiling. They closed it up with a hologram so it wouldn't come together for us, but we figured it out anyway.
Once Jared said that when we found her, Stana would give us each a kiss. I said "Girls don't kiss detectives, they're just doing their job," but I thought about it later and decided that maybe she would.
Jared and I played the Stana Yurich Snatching nearly every day that summer. Stana was still missing. The news talked about her every day in the beginning. Soon they only mentioned her when they covered the investigation into her mom and dad.
"—I was with Alenka the night her daughter disappeared, that's how I know. She was still drinking when I left. She always drank when her husband was on one of his trips."
By the time school started we were both a little tired of the game. We ended up with different teachers, so we didn't see each other much. I played video games at Tommy Dieter's house after school, and sometimes I saw Jared riding his bike with the two blonde-haired girls that lived at the end of his block. When we did see each other, we didn't talk about the Stana Yurich Snatching. Jared said it was a kid game, and we're too old for make believe. I said "Yeah," but for a while I wasn't sure I meant it.
It wasn't until almost Christmas that they found her. It snowed hard the night before and school was cancelled. My mom and I had spent the morning eating pancakes and watching Christmas movies on TV. I was all bundled up, lacing my boots, when the news came on. My mom called for me to wait, something had happened. The pond next to Woodford Elementary had frozen over, and some kids were sliding around the ice on their sneakers when one of them saw a ghost.
It was Stana, staring up through the ice.
The reporter said she was probably killed around the time she disappeared. A man I didn't recognize was arrested, and so was Stana's mom. Mrs. Yurich looked a lot different than she had that summer, when she was always wiping her eyes and pleading with the camera to bring her baby back. Now she never looked at the camera. She just walked behind the policemen with her eyes closed and her lips pressed together. It was like she put on a mask, or maybe took one off.
My mom put her arm around my shoulders and squeezed them real tight. She kept saying "It's ok, it's ok," like I was crying. After a while I did cry, a little. I had spent the summer searching for Stana Yurich, rescuing her, even kissing her sometimes, but it was all make believe.
My mom asked me if I wanted to invite Jared over to
play, but I said no. I wasn't sure he'd come, and I didn't want anyone
disturbing the snow just yet; not even me. She kissed my forehead and said
"Stay close" and let me outside. I walked a few feet from the door
and stood still, looking out over the unbroken snow. I thought about the pond
at Woodford, and about Stana. I could see her, frozen under glass like a princess
from a fairytale; like she was really just asleep, not dead and falling apart.
BIO: Refe Tuma lives in Kansas City, writing web copy and fiction. His stories have appeared, or will be appearing, in WhiskyPaper, Short, Fast, and Deadly, and The Rusty Nail. He goes by @RefeUp on Twitter if you'd like to say hi.