This week in New Voices, we are proud to share Emily Roth’s “Everywhere, All at Once,” the honorable mention in 2021’s Flash Fiction Contest. In “Everywhere, All at Once,” the narrator’s brother has gone missing at college, and now she sees him everywhere. But always, she is wrong. Always, who she sees is someone else’s brother. Roth deftly plays with expectations and memory in this brilliant flash you won’t want to miss.
The last time I spoke to my brother, we couldn’t hear each other. All I heard was a whooshing din, like he was standing under the El tracks, even though I know there’s no El in the cornfield. After a minute, we hung up.
My brother has been missing for three days.
But when I finally arrive at his school, after driving through two hours of cornfields, he’s everywhere.
I see him in the quad, gazing at the clouds. I blink, and he is gone.
Outside his dorm, he sprints past me, full speed. The wind morphs him, his edges waver. Blurry, he glances at me, but his nose is all wrong—someone else’s brother.
He disappears again and again, everywhere I look.
The police aren’t sure where he was last spotted, who he last texted.
My brother’s roommate looks surprised to see me. He has a port-wine stain across one side of his face that I hadn’t noticed when my brother moved in six weeks ago. In my memory, his complexion is monochromatic. I wonder what else I remember wrong.
“They’re searching the woods,” the roommate tells me.
I smooth my brother’s crumpled comforter and sit. The room is humid, a sweating stink cloud. I poke a jumble of dirty clothes with my feet and wonder if I’ll have to wash them.
My brother’s roommate watches me from the door. His birthmark stretches over one eye and half of his nose, swirling maroon like a cosmos. I strangely want to touch it.
We stare at each other. This is our third conversation, if you could call it that. The first, six weeks ago, I hardly remember. The second, two days ago, he asked if he should call the police and I said What do you mean, he’s gone? repeatedly, demanding new answers.
“How’s your mom?” the roommate asks.
“Can we open a window?”
I pick up a photo from my brother’s desk. A Jolly Rancher wrapper clings to the frame; watermelon. The photo was taken the day he won State last year. He ran the 5K in fifteen minutes, twelve seconds. He couldn’t believe he could run that fast. He kept looking at the medal and laughing. It was the funniest day of his life. His photo was in the paper—the moment the ribbon snapped, his arms in the air, face cracked into a grin.