Ever since the night of the incident with Luke Willis, the preacher’s son, sophomore Hallelujah Calhoun has been silent. When the rumors swirled around school, she was silent. When her parents grounded her, she was silent. When her friends abandoned her…silent.
Now, six months later, on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains, Hallie still can’t find a voice to answer the taunting. Shame and embarrassment haunt her, while Luke keeps coming up with new ways to humiliate her. Not even meeting Rachel, an outgoing newcomer who isn’t aware of her past, can pull Hallie out of her shell. Being on the defensive for so long has left her raw, and she doesn’t know who to trust.
On a group hike, the incessant bullying pushes Hallie to her limit. When Hallie, Rachel, and Hallie’s former friend Jonah get separated from the rest of the group, the situation quickly turns dire. Stranded in the wilderness, the three have no choice but to band together.
With past betrayals and harrowing obstacles in their way, Hallie fears they’ll never reach safety. Could speaking up about the night that changed everything close the distance between being lost and found? Or has she traveled too far to come back?
She’s alone. More alone than she’s ever been. It’s just her and the trees closing in and the sun beating down. The branches block her path, holding her back. The birds are laughing at her. The ground drops out from under her with no warning, and she stumbles. There’s no one to catch her. She falls hard. She lies still for a moment, gasping, feeling pain and fear and hunger and panic roll across her in waves. Then she uses the nearest tree to pull herself back to her feet. She has to keep moving. No one else can help her do this. It’s all up to her.
Everything is different. The five days she’s been out here are a lifetime. Before is a memory. Before that—barely a dream. Now, there’s only ahead. One foot in front of the other. This trail will lead somewhere. It has to.
She used to think alone was the answer. Alone would stop the whispers and the taunts. Alone couldn’t get her into any more trouble. Alone meant not getting hurt. Now, she’d give anything to see another human being. To hear someone call her name.
The First Day
The laughter starts as a low murmur. Hallelujah might not have even noticed it if it wasn’t coming from a few seats down. From where he’s sitting. But she hears the laughs, hears them spreading, and she knows. She’s not surprised. She expects this. Still, she feels anxiety blossom.
She just wants to be invisible. He can’t even let her have that.
And so she folds in on herself. She stares at the fire pit. She watches the embers glow and the sparks float up with the smoke through the opening in the gazebo ceiling. She inhales the burnt air.
And then something hits the side of her head. It bounces off her shoulder and lands on the wooden bench next to her. She glances down. A tiny twig.
A few seconds pass, and then another twig hits her. This time, on her cheek. She ignores the muffled laughter. Refuses to look over. Tries not to react. Because that’s what Luke wants.
Directly across the fire pit, their youth group director, Rich, is oblivious. He’s leading campfire songs, strumming an acoustic guitar, eyes closed.
The next twig bounces off the top of Hallelujah’s head. The one after that gets stuck in her hair, right by her forehead. She thinks about which is worse: brushing it away or leaving it. Then she pulls the twig loose and drops it on the ground. Her cheeks burn.
She knows she shouldn’t let Luke get to her. But flicking twigs at her is just the beginning. Luke’s got the other kids’ attention. Next: the rumors spread. The real mocking starts. It’s a chain of events he’s been repeating for almost six months, a chain she doesn’t know how to break.
So she does the only thing she knows how to do: she sets her face to stone and keeps her eyes on the fire.
The group keeps singing. Campfire standards. A few hymns. They all blur together in her ears, just notes and notes and notes. Singing used to be her life. She would stand in the choir room at school, in the church auditorium during Sunday services, in her backyard, in her shower, and let her pure soprano sail up to the highest notes. Music used to burst from her. She couldn’t contain it.
She doesn’t sing anymore. She can barely stand to listen.
Kathryn Holmes grew up in Maryville, Tennessee, where she was an avid reader and an aspiring writer from an early age. She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and piles upon piles of books. A graduate of The New School’s MFA in Creative Writing program, Kathryn works as a freelance dance journalist, among other writing gigs. The Distance Between Lost and Found is her debut novel. Find her on twitter @kathryn_holmes
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