Bewildering Stories

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The Missing Person

by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Maria didn’t show up for work one day. She’d worked at the office for five years, manning the phone. Her boss noticed after about an hour, and called to her at home to inquire into the matter.

“No user with this number,” said a mechanical voice at the other end. The boss assumed he’d just dialed the wrong number, and tried again, again being answered by the mechanical voice. The third time he made sure to press each individual numbered button in the correct order, and checked on the screen to see if it was right. It was. He dialed the last one, and it rang: “No user with this number.”

The telephone book was consulted. He checked, and double checked, and triple checked. He then checked the phone book itself. It was valid. Maria wasn’t in it.

How come then he had her number listed along his other employees? He had called her before, to get her to work overtime, he remembered it well. The answer was so simple: “She had an unlisted number,” one of his other employees suggested.

He decided to give the girl a chance. She had been a good employee, she deserved a vacation, even if she didn’t report it. He let it slide for the time being.

A week later Maria had still not appeared. Her boss was losing patience, and had another employee go and get her at her home, or at the very least ask her if she had quit, so they could remove her off the list of employees and replace her.

Just an hour later the man came back, saying he could not locate her house. The street had only even-numbered houses, and Maria’s had been odd-numbered. That’s not unusual in Smoky Bay. But what was strange, is that he distinctly remembering having gone there before, for coffee with Maria.

At that point they called the police.

Maria wasn’t being held by them, nor was anyone fitting her description. During search, her social security number came up blank. Foul play they expected, but what? They asked to see pictures of her.

She had attended every social function at the office, and was generally a very social person, but when searching the office-party photo-albums, they didn’t find a single picture of her.

A sketch artist was summoned, and did five drawings after the descriptions of her coworkers, only to come up with five distinctly different drawings. Witness reports didn’t agree on hair colour, space between eyes, size of nose, chin, ears or even weight or height.

The known data supplied by her workplace; her full name, social security number; and therefore date of birth and birthplace, her phone number, her own apartment, and her bank and credit-card records, led nowhere. Or more precisely, there weren’t any. There were just meaningless numbers with no corresponding data to back it.

There where no records whatsoever of her prior existence. All knowledge left of her existence was from people who worked with her, and the staff at a deli close by. But they didn’t even agree how she had looked.

The entire staff was rolled into the holding cells to identify the women kept therein, based on their inability to describe the missing woman. They didn’t recognize a single one.

She had taken up space at her workplace, surely, because there were records of her getting paid from their end. The proper sum was transferred to the non-existent savings account, for real.

But for some reason the sum had never left the office, like it hadn’t been paid. It had been transferred, but not, somehow. How a non existent sum had been transferred to a non-existent savings-account for real, with proper records and all, was a total mystery.

The final try was researching her family tree. Surely, they found her brother quite quickly, where he lived out in the country.

He had no recollection of having a sister.

A week later, everyone had forgotten all about what’s-her-name’s mysterious disappearance.

Copyright © 2004 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

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