Authors: Todd Ritter
Published by Maze
An imprint of HarperCollins
1 London Bridge Street
London, SE1 9GF
This edition published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Publishers 2015
First published as
by Minotaur Books, NY, 2011
Copyright © Todd Ritter 2011
Cover design © Head Design
Todd Ritter asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
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Source ISBN: 9780312622817
Ebook Edition © January 2015 ISBN: 9780008133184
To my family
It was the baby, of all things, that woke her up. Not her husband. Not the police. Just the baby and his crying.
Maggie had grown accustomed to the sound. Having two kids did that to you. Sometimes she’d accidentally sleep right through whatever racket one of them was making. But that night was different. The crying was different. It wasn’t the irritated wail of an infant who was tired or the pained whimper of one who was teething. It was, Maggie realized, a cry of terror, and the noise tugged her out of sleep, out of bed, and out of the room.
Along the way, her bleary eyes caught the clock on her dresser. It was almost eleven. She had been asleep for more than three hours. Not as bad as some days, but not good, either. Not good at all. And despite the rest, she still felt weary as she crossed the hall to the nursery. Still utterly exhausted.
In the nursery, Maggie flicked on the overhead light. The sharp, sudden glow made her eyes sting in addition to being bleary. It didn’t matter. She could navigate the room with her eyes closed, which is exactly what she did. The memories of hundreds of similar trips guided her—rocking chair to the right, dresser to the left, don’t stub your toe on the toy chest. Once she reached the crib, Maggie opened her eyes.
The crib was empty.
The crying, however, continued.
Maggie heard it, loud and fearful. She rotated in the center of the room, looking for a possible explanation. Had the baby somehow escaped the crib and crawled into the closet? The dresser? Another room?
It was only after two more twirls that Maggie’s sleep-addled mind caught up with her spinning body. When it did, she realized the source of the crying wasn’t in the nursery at all. It was coming from downstairs and had been the entire time. Only now it sounded more urgent, more frightened.
Maggie left the nursery and clomped down the stairs. At the bottom, she expected to see Ken reclining in the living-room La-Z-Boy, the baby wriggling in his arms. Instead, the chair was occupied by Ruth Clark, whose spindly arms struggled to stay wrapped around the writhing child.
Ruth, who was only sixty but looked at least a decade older, lived down the street. She and Maggie were friends, but not friendly enough for Ruth to be in her house, holding her child, at almost eleven o’clock at night. Yet there she was, trying to hush the baby in the gray glow of the television.
“Ruth? What’s going on?” Blinking in confusion, Maggie noted what her neighbor was wearing—a nightgown stuffed into threadbare trousers, flip-flops on her feet. She had dressed in a hurry. “Where’s Ken?”
“You were asleep,” Ruth said with forced cheer. “So he asked me to come over and keep an eye on the baby. He had to step out for a minute.”
Ruth stayed silent as she pressed the baby into Maggie’s arms. He had been wrapped tightly in a blanket, which covered everything but his face. Whether it was Ken’s doing or Ruth’s, Maggie didn’t know. Either way, it was a bad move on such a muggy night. Both the baby and the blanket were drenched with cold sweat, which explained the bawling.
The crying softened once Maggie settled onto the couch and loosened the blanket. Ruth sat next to her, uncomfortably close. She was hovering, Maggie realized. And watchful.
“Did Ken say where he was going?”
Ruth’s reply—“He didn’t”—was rushed and unconvincing.
“What about when he’d be back?”
“I’ll wait up for him. You don’t need to stick around.”
“I think I should stay.”
Maggie didn’t have the energy to protest, not that Ruth would have allowed it. The finality of her tone made it clear she intended to stay. With nothing left to say or do, Maggie stared at the television.
What she saw astounded her.
The screen was mostly a grainy blur—fizzy patches of black and gray. Then an image took shape through the haze. It was a figure in a bulky uniform, looking like a ghost against a background of endless darkness. The figure was on a ladder, hopping downward rung by rung.
It paused at the bottom. It placed a foot onto the ground. It spoke.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
“Sweet Lord,” Ruth said. “He’s really standing on it.”
was Neil Armstrong.
was the moon. And Ruth was correct—the astronaut was standing on its surface just as easily as Maggie now sat in her living room.
Eyes fixed on the TV, she immediately thought of Charlie. Nine years older than the baby, he had been moon crazy the past year. Earlier that afternoon, when
actually touched down on the moon’s surface, Charlie had cheered, jumped, and cried until he made himself sick.
He would want to see this, Maggie knew. History was taking place.
“I’m going to wake Charlie.”
Ruth trailed her to the stairs. “Maggie, wait!”
Maggie didn’t stop, continuing up the stairs with rushed purpose. At the top, her bare feet made slapping sounds on the hardwood floor as she moved down the hall to Charlie’s bedroom. Ruth remained downstairs, calling up to her.
“Please come back! Charlie’s not there!”
Maggie stopped, hand against the closed bedroom door. “What do you mean?”
“Come back downstairs,” Ruth said. “I’ll explain.”
Maggie did the opposite, pushing into the room instead. The streetlight outside the window cast a rectangle of light that stretched across the floor. Just like in the nursery, she didn’t need it. She knew every inch of the bedroom, from the telescope in the corner to the model rockets lined up on the bookshelf.
The window was open, letting in a rainy breeze that dampened the curtains. Beneath it was Charlie’s bed, draped in a comforter dotted with moons, stars, and planets. Holding the baby with one arm, Maggie used her free hand to lift the comforter and whip it away.
The bed, much like the baby’s crib earlier, was empty.
“Please come downstairs.” Ruth now stood in the doorway, breath heavy, face pinched.
“Where is he? Did Ken take him somewhere?”
Ruth moved into the room and tried to clasp her hand. Maggie yanked it away. “Answer me, Ruth. Where is my son?”
“I don’t understand.”
But Maggie did. She understood quite well as she shuffled backward and plopped onto the empty bed. The bed that should have contained Charlie. Her boy. Whose whereabouts were now unknown.
“Is that where Ken went? To look for him?”
“He called the police,” Ruth said. “Then he woke me and Mort.”
Mort was Ruth’s husband. Maggie presumed he was also looking for Charlie, along with the police and God knows who else. Apparently everyone but her knew her son was gone.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Ken didn’t think you’d wake up. And if you did, he knew you’d be worried.”
Damn right she was worried. Her body might have been motionless on her son’s bed, but her mind was a whirling dervish of fears and bad thoughts. Where was Charlie? How long had he been gone? Was it too late to find him? When Maggie’s brain settled down, her body started up again. She rose from the bed and stomped past Ruth into the hallway.
“I have to look for him,” she said. “I have to find him.”
Again, Ruth tried to stop her. “I’ll take the baby.”
Maggie tightened her arms around the infant. One of her children was missing. She wasn’t going to let the other out of her sight until he was found.
She descended the stairs into the living room. The TV was still on, still broadcasting surreal pictures from another world. A second astronaut had joined Armstrong, both of them leaping like jackrabbits across the moon’s surface. Maggie moved right past it, not caring. Her only concern was her children, not the moon, or the astronauts, or the fact that she was running outside in the rain in bare feet, denim cutoffs, and a T-shirt stained with baby puke.
She made it to the end of the driveway before seeing two men approach the house. One of them was Ken. The other was Mort Clark. Maggie looked past them, hoping to see Charlie lagging behind. He wasn’t.
“Did you find him?” Maggie asked as she met them in the middle of the street. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” Ken said. “I have no idea.”
He looked pale and haunted—more ghostlike than those astronauts on TV. The rain had flattened his hair. Large drops of it clung to his beard.
“We were watching TV,” he said. “They were showing stuff about the moon landing and Charlie said he wanted to go for a bike ride and look at it. He said he thought he’d be able to see the astronauts from here.”
It was a ridiculous notion, but very much in line with Charlie’s thinking. Maggie easily pictured him hopping on his bike—midnight blue with badly painted stars—and pedaling off in excitement.
“How long ago was that?”
“About an hour.”
“Where did he go?”