I am suffocating in the thickening sap of an AMBER Alert, the bends buckling the air sacks in my lungs, my bowels at the gate of my body. My son's name and

picture flash across my cell phone, and I will his image to be blasted from every satellite circling the planet. I stand, thunderstruck, among fairies and phantasms in front of the Haunted House. My eyes pivot to faces of balloon wielding children all around me, and I damn each one for not being the face I want, I need, I must see. And I hate, with every fiber of my being, all the parents who do have their children by the hand, in the stroller, on their shoulders, on their hips. And I want the sun to stop burning, and the wind to stop blowing, and the earth to stop turning, and I want everyone everywhere to stop living until I get my son back. And I curse God for making a love too thick for me to breathe in.

          I swoon from smells of cotton candy and burnt popcorn, my head swinging with the bushy eyed pirates on the swing ride and spinning with the giant red teacups, and slowing with the rainbow of horses on the merry-go-round, stopping at the woods to the southeast. I have not noticed the gang of trees until now. Why haven't I noticed them until now? We were here the whole time, you licked strawberry ice cream, waiting in line for the Demon Drop, they say, laughing, shaking their leafy heads at my silliness, at my carelessness. And I am sinking, sinking down through armies of pedophiles on websites, and shadows holding out lollipops and puppies, and brown, windowless vans, and cinder blocked basements.

          And then I see Phlegyas walking toward me to take me across the River Styx, where I will find my son on the other side, waiting for me in a valley of smiling, missing children. His man voice is muffled by giggles, and carnival music, and babies crying, and It's a Small World After All, and death embracing screams from Demon Drop. Something shiny on his chest burns out what is left of my bloodshot eyes, his lips moving, mouthing, saying something I cannot hear. What is he saying? I do not know, because I am still sinking down, riding a child size casket to the ocean floor, my husband's angry eyes glaring at me through the bubbles floating up.

          But Phlegyas is mouthing still through the darkening blue, waving his hands across my face, and snapping his fingers. Someone else says, "Ma'am" Has something happened that they would call me Ma'am? Because I was Miss just a minute ago, and now that I cannot find my boy, I am Ma'am. What are they saying? I butterfly stroke up from a gorge of amber and despair, my head cresting the surface in time to hear the police officer say, "We have your son, Ma'am. He's fine."

2008 Underground Voices