I wrote this between 1990 and 1992 on spec to Warner Books. Virginia Kidd was my agent. It's the beginning of a 130,000 word novel.
I paid a professional editor $2000 to fix it up for me. That was a substantial percentage of my take home, back then. And I had three kids and a wife to support. We could have used the $2k to go on a nice family vacation. Instead, I sent it to a coin-operated woman in Los Angeles who was recommended to me by the Warner editor, and who knew the book was probably not salvagable back then. But she took the money and sent me a butt load of fix it notes, most of which are now mouldering in my garage, waiting for the day I toss the whole lot into the trash can.
It was a pretty ego-driven thing to do.
And I can't bring myself to dump the MS into the can. Just can't.
Eventually Warner rejected it. Their excuse was that it was derivative of "The X-Files" Forget that they engaged with me while I was writing this and they got the first draft from me before the X-Files came out, and I didn't know Chris Carter. But no matter, they were first.
So I put it on the scrap heap. Literally and figuratively, disgusted I'd spent 18 months of my free time on this story, I just wanted it all erased from my history. Eighteen months of my free time, gone. Eighteen months I could have spent with my kids, back in the days when I was on airplanes 75% of my waking (and sleeping) moments, traveling the world to try to become a big shot in Silicon Valley - yet another ego trip. It was humiliating. It was embarrassing. How could I face my kids?
But I did it. And it was.
Just yesterday I was rooting around in my garage and found a box with a hardcopy of the MS, replete with edits from the paid Warner Books editor. Looking over it now, I think I'm a better writer, 20 years hence, than the editor was back then.
This is what the story is about. With hindsight of 20 years I see it so clearly. With hindsight of 10 years here at E2, it's aircraft-landing-light brilliant. I go back and read the words I wrote in that WU. I've dug up the novel.
All of it is real, somewhere. And much of it has leaked into my real life.
It was long ago, and far away. Phones aren't on cords anymore. Almost nothing goes via fax. Having done a bunch of stuff and having had lots of smaller publications, I don't really care as much about being a book author anymore. To me now, writing is just something I do because God made me this way, not a to-be-desirous money-producing vocation. I could care less if I make a penny on it, now. Nor do I yearn for any more publicity. Life has been good to me. It owes me nothing.
Now, as a senior citizen (well, AARP seems to think I am, anyway), I comprehend fully that the purpose of my writing was never to become a famous author.
My writing 20 years ago was a message to myself in the future. A time capsule. To remind myself of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman, with whom I held hands at the bottom of the earth, teary eyed, trying to figure out how we knew each other, and what it meant that we both dreamt of owls and black-eyed horses that were, except for their thoughts, invisible in the ice.
Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting,
For fear of little men. . .
- William Allingham, "Fairies"
The baby went missing on Friday.
By Sunday, Chris and Aubrey Marks' world dulled to a plastic replica of life once remembered. Existence became a sleepless, walking death, moving through time with no part to play.
It went like this. She told the police. It went like this. She told her parents. It went like this, to anyone who would listen.
The baby was playing in the sunshine. In plain sight he splashed in a puddle left by the lawn sprinkler. Chris cradled the phone receiver between her cheek and shoulder while she stacked dishwasher-clean table settings in the cabinets. She glanced through the window over the sink between the “uh-huh-Jill"s and “you-don't-say-Jill"s. Every couple of seconds.
"How often, ma'am?" asks the cop. Officer something or other. Detective somebody.
Five, ten seconds max.
She crumbles. She keeps collapsing. Falling inward into the not-feeling, and in those split instances feels it all to evaporate to the dream story beyond wakefulness where everything is ever ok.
But it came back. She couldn't keep it away.
She was standing and now she's dropped into in Aubrey's arms on the couch.
"Get her some water," says the detective. Aubrey strokes her head. Kisses her forehead over and over, tears dripping from his cheeks. Anger fading to sadness. Sadness to sorrow. Sorry fading to hatred.
"Chris. Ma'am. You're looking out the window every so often. How often?"
"Seconds," Aubrey shouts. Then catching himself. Whispers. "Five, ten seconds at most."
"But something happened between glimpses so maybe it took longer?" says the cop, his badge glistening on his black tunic as he bends to hand Chris a glass of water he'd got from their kitchen. Chris ignores him.
Their glass. Their water. Their kitchen. "Why aren't you out looking for my son? That's what I want to know," Aubrey says, steadying his voice.
The cop puts the water on the coffee table. Goes back to sitting on the edge of the easy chair.
"We've got out the description. A fax of his picture is on every dashboard in every squad car in the state. Everyone is looking, Mr. Marks," says the cop. "But more detail would help."
"It wasn't more than five seconds," Chris says, sobbing. She pushes herself away from Aubrey.
The detective says to Aubrey, "And you were, where?"
"Garage. I told you. Twenty times," Aubrey says.
"Working on your lawn mower."
"Car. Changing plugs."
"Five seconds. You saw nothing. Four-year old can't go that far in five seconds..."
"I saw..." he says, and remembers he saw what Chris saw. To her it was somewhere between that last glance and placing a soup bowl in the right-hand cabinet that time flickered. Aubrey had his hand on the ratchet handle, and suddenly the plug was tight by a quarter turn he never made.
Aubrey doesn't know how to explain it. He remembers his hand. One moment the fingers point north, the next moment, east.
He says, "...I saw, I remember the screaming."
"...baby. Shouts. Then Chris screaming. Not stopping. She never stopped." Now he's looking at his hands balled into fists on his lap. Could he remember doing that, even? One moment holding Chris, the next pounding his fists into his thighs. A person can't remember every single second. "How can I remember everything," he says, quietly.
"What's that?" says the detective.
"Nothing," says Aubrey.
Chris starts sobbing again. She grabs a tissue from the box on the coffee table, gets off the sofa, and heads to the kitchen.
To the window.
She sees nothing but a battlefield of plastic toddler toys soaking up heat in the hot August sun. She runs outside, her heart racing. Nothing--not a trace. No footsteps. No car engines. No flash of movement in the distance. Nothing but the outside that had always been there.
No dark clothed stranger. No sign of the evil that engulfed her invisibly, totally.
Jill’s voice rises faint and tinny, oscillating from the handset that swings from the cord. “Chris? Chris? What’s wrong?”
She hangs up without a word. Dials 9-1-1.
Aubrey comes running from the garage. So useless. So clueless. "Honey. What's wrong?"
"911 operator, what's the emergency?"
Aubrey tears off through the yard when he hears her - through the maze of plastic ride-on toys, the sandbox, toward the woods behind the house. He vanishes into the trees.
“For how long? When did you notice him missing?”
“Just now. He just disappeared!”
“Calm down, ma’am. People don't disappear. How old?"
"Four. Our Sammy is four."
"Ok now - he went somewhere. Was he with someone? Maybe he walked off. Where have you looked?”
“Goddamn you. He disappeared in front of my face.”
“We’re sending a squad car, ma’am. don't hang up.”
“You don’t understand. Somebody--something took him.”
The detective glances at the uniformed police officer. Then he says, "Mr. Marks. Your wife told the operator somebody took your son. Don't you have any idea who that could be?"
Aubrey shakes his head, now his throat closes again with grief, he manages, "I told you..."
"You understand how this looks. There's no other witnesses except you and your wife. None of your neighbors saw Sammy that day. Or the day before."
Aubrey nods. He wipes the tears from his eyes and cheeks. "I know," he says.
How can anyone remember everything?
After a month they exhausted Aubrey's summer bonus on calls to missing persons offices around the country. Chris loses twenty pounds, consuming little more than coffee and a few crackers a day. Aubrey’s hair thins and grays in streaks.
There is no evidence, no trace. It's perfect in absolute completion as either of them has ever experienced.
Then the birthday passed. Then the first Christmas passed. When Chris's parents arrive in May to take her home with them, they suggest the dried pine tree is a fire hazard and the wrapped gifts should be donated.
After a year their dearest friends can't hold onto blind belief in their story and Chris and Aubrey no longer have anything in common with the living world except that they can't will themselves to stop breathing.
Eventually, their own families abandon them. Aubrey's parents were gone and the distant cousins he had refused to speak with either of them for fear the continued negative publicity would make their lives more difficult. Chris’s mother finally admits she wonders what kind of parent simply “loses” her first-born child and stops speaking with her daughter who has moved back into her childhood bedroom. Only Chris’s father stood steadfast by his daughter’s story. At his funeral Chris cried an ocean of tears she’d thought had long run dry. Grief is endless. Happiness, fiction.
Chris complied with the detective who suspected her of foul play to the point she felt she could implicate herself and Aubrey and be done with it. She told Aubrey she thought that at least prison would provide some finality. But her taped confessions were less believable than the original story.
As far as Aubrey was concerned there could be no end to it. His logical mind told him that by this point the bones of his boy lay untouched in an open culvert they all overlooked. A sinkhole. An undetected mine shaft.
Every few years one TV crime show or another would replay Chris’s phone call to emergency services.
“Something took him," the world heard her say.
"What was it, Chris?" everyone asked her. The detective. Their departing friends. Their disbelieving families.
"Just five seconds," she said, over and over. For years.
Chris and Aubrey came together for the last time to sign the papers when they sold the house and all its contents to settle the divorce.
Why can't a person remember everything?
The brick and concrete steps beneath Aubrey's feet etched a pattern in
his retinas he was sure he’d never forget. How many times had he
trudged up those steps, head down, grocery bags in tow? He’d carried
Chris up those steps and over the threshold their first day in their new
home. He'd brought Sammy up those steps when they came home from the hospital that first day. He had no
tears left--nothing left for the last vestige of the future he had
planned for his family.
"What was it?" Aubrey said to her, that final day." You know there was something."
Her eyes narrow, her face taut with hatred. She says, "Please. Don't start."
"There’s something in me..." Aubrey says. Coughs. “...you know...”
"No," Chris says, turning and walking away from him. "Here. Now. Over."
"You know it's there and you don't remember. You know it's there," he says to her as she gets into the waiting car with her mother and slams the car door behind herself.
Why can't a person remember?