The Disappearance of Juliana
by John Walters
Your first clue comes from one of Greg's old friends. You find him in the musty basement of a bar, playing pool all alone. He's got a week-old growth of dark beard and his jeans and yellow sweatshirt look like they've never been washed.
The room stinks of stale beer, cigarette smoke, dusty carpet, and B.O. You gag and almost retch, but you force it down and continue.
"I want to find Greg," you say.
Whereupon he looks at you with a peculiar expression that is a bit more than just a mix of being half-drunk and half-stoned, carefully lines up the cue stick with the cue ball, and takes another shot. "How did you find me?" he asks.
"It wasn't difficult. If no one's found you before, it's probably because no one's looking."
He digests that while he takes a few more shots. Finally he asks, "Why do you want to find him?"
"We were living together. He left suddenly. I miss him. I want to know why he left." It's true, as far as it goes, though not the whole truth. Your stepfather is stalking you, your mother is a silent presence halfway across the city who you know is constantly hoping you'll call, your job is a boring dead end.... You just have to get away, is all, and searching for Greg is a good excuse.
"You won't find him." At which point he buttons up and won't say any more; he ignores you as if you aren't even in the room.
You ply him with cheap tequila. When the bottle is almost down to the worm, he breaks down. "They got him," he says. "The invisible people got him."
In Rome, something happens. After you find a hostel in the center, you start to walk the streets, ostensibly looking for Greg, but you soon realize that you don't really give a damn whether you find him or not. You look around as if for the first time. All sorts of things are happening about which you had no ideaâ€”little things like the pattern of raindrops in puddles, the way the cobblestones in the streets are arranged, and the looks on the faces of the people that pass you by.
"Have you heard of the invisible people?" you ask. "Do you know where they are?"
As if she didn't hear the question, she says, "I think you should go on to India, as you have been considering. It seems the logical next step in your quest."
You wonder whether she deliberately evaded your question about the invisible people or whether she didn't hear it. You are just about to ask again when she says, "Aren't the stars beautiful? They shine like jewels."
You look up, and it's true. They are resplendent and innumerable in the clear winter sky.
Then you notice that you are suddenly cold again. A chill breeze hits your face like a slap waking you from a deep sleep.
You shiver and look around.
The woman is gone.
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"The Disappearance of Juliana" is roughly 6400 words.
John Walters is an American writer, a Clarion graduate, currently living in Greece with his Greek wife and five sons. To pay the bills, he teaches English as a second language. He has had stories published in Talebones, Altair, Full Unit Hookup, and other magazines.