Photo by Jaromír Kavan on Unsplash

It looks like the place had been abandoned only yesterday. Everything still. Waiting. Silent. No popcorn can be heard popping. No children screeching as they get spun around on the tilt-o-whirl. No sticky fingers from too much cotton candy.

The child went missing almost 20 years ago. The last sighting of her was of a wide, happy grin and her parents shooing her toward some game or another. Just hoping for a few minutes of peace from their daughter’s endless energy. How could they know they’d never see her again? Of the news coverage and cameras that would follow them around for weeks? Of the devastating heartbreak, anger and loneliness as one of them abandons the other to their grief?

The leaves being blown along the boardwalk sound like the pitter-patter of children’s feet as they run through the carnival games. I kick aside a hot dog wrapper and wonder how long they searched before they stopped looking for me. When did my stuffed animals get put into storage and then eventually thrown out? How long before their hearts stopped breaking every time they caught a glimpse of another happy child in her parent’s arms?

The memories distract me from my true purpose here. With a shake of my head I make my way to the park across the street. So many families. So many little girls. I straighten with purpose as I scan the crowd searching for the perfect one.